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4. The free public employment offices supported by the State or the city.
In all of these classes except the first the service is usually free to employer and employee alike, save that in the second class a small nominal fee is sometimes charged in order to make the service pay all or a portion of the expenses of the business. In the fourth class, with which this article is chiefly concerned, this latter feature has been attempted in only one instance.(a) The term "free" is necessary to distinguish the fourth class from the first or "pay" agencies, and the term "public" is needed to distinguish it from the second and third classes.
The purpose of this investigation is to study the aims, methods, progress, and results of the free public employment offices of the various States and municipalities, and to present such conclusions as the facts seem to justify.
Much detailed information could be presented in a digest of the reports of the commissioners of labor of the various States, supplemented by correspondence from public officials, but as the nature of the work of the public employment office is such as appeals to the generous impulses of men, there is no cause for wonder if the reports of the commissioners and superintendents occasionally exhibit a greater degree of enthusiasm than the results seem to warrant. Moreover, to view the results of the operations of the bureaus from merely a local standpoint would yield but superficial information and lead to uncertain and empirical deductions.
In order, therefore, to carry out the purpose outlined above, the report should be based upon information obtained by personal visits of the investigator to the offices, an inspection of their methods of business, and an examination of local industrial conditions, taking account not only of official opinion, but also of public opinion, especially as represented by employers, labor organizations, and students of the local situation.
Political experiment is necessarily slow in its processes, and most of the errors observed are due to the fact that while the public employment offices have been in existence in this country about fifteen years, and a somewhat longer period in Europe, the movement is not yet beyond the experimental stage. Criticism does not always take account of this fact, and, consequently, the whole movement is oftentimes rashly condemned for preventable mistakes which are by no means fundamental in nature. Certain organizations are warm supporters of the movement while others oppose it. This partisanship gives rise to the false impression that the whole agitation is only an exhibition of class spirit and interest. Moreover, the varying degree of success secured by some States, the abortive attempts made in others, and the abandonment of the system by one have placed the movement rather on the defensive. The advisability of establishing such a system is under consideration in at least three States, and in several others the movement is being watched with interest.
a Los Angeles, Cal.
The chronology of the free public employment offices of the United States is as follows: 1890. Ohio, 5 offices, Cleveland, Columbus, ('incinnati, Dayton, and Toledo; salaries
paid by cities at first, now by State. | 1893. Los Angeles, ('al., a municipal office, founded and maintained by lahor unions,
later assumed by municipality and county, now by municipality. 1894. Seattle, Wash., a municipal office, founded by an amendment to the city charter. 1895. Montana, first legislative attempt at a mail-order system. Changed by a sub
stitute act of March 6, 1897, to a law permitting municipalities to act for themselves. Butte office, 1902; Great Falls, 1905; both sounded by city
ordinances and virtually municipal offices. 1896. New York, 1 office, New York City; act repealed and office discontinued, 1906. -1897. Nebraska, mail-order system, only 1 office, State capitol at Lincoln. + 1899. Illinois, 4 offices, 3 in ('hicago and 1 in Peoria; original act declared uncon
stitutional, present one passed May 11, 1903. 1899. Missouri, 3 offices, St. Louis, Kansas City, and St. Joseph. 1901. Connecticut, 5 offices, Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Norwich, and Water
bury. 1901. Kansas, mail-order system; only 1 office, State capitol at Topeka. 1901. West Virginia, 1 office, Wheeling.
1901. Wisconsin, 4 offices, La Crosse, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, Superior. + 1901. Duluth, Minn., municipal office; founded by city ordinance.
1902. Maryland, 1 office, Baltimore. 1902. Sacramento, ('al., municipal office; founded by city ordinance. 1904. Tacoma, Wash., municipal office; founded by city ordinance. 1905. Minnesota, 1 office, Minneapolis; municipal office at Duluth continues as
organized 1905. Michigan, 2 offices, Detroii and Grand Rapids. 1905. Spokane, Wash., municipal office; founded by city ordinance.
The field of the present investigation covered the 15 States having free public employment offices, namely, California,(0) Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Washington, (“) West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Colorado, Iowa, and Massachusetts were also included, since these States have the establishment of such offices under consideration. There were at the time of the investigation 37 offices, all but 5 of which were personally inspected. The 5 not visited were Oshkosh and Superior, Wis.; Duluth, Minn.; Great Falls, Mont.; and Spokane, Wash. Of these the second and third were satisfactorily reported by correspondence, by reliable visitors, and by official testimony; the other three had been in operation but a few months.
a The State has no statutory provision, but several of the cities have municipal employment offices.
Each State had to be studied as a separate problem; for not only were industrial conditions necessarily different in each, but the laws authorizing the creation of the offices varied greatly. The general plan of investigation was to visit first the State capitol, or wherever the commissioner of labor had his office, study the State situation as an entire problem, then visit the several offices. In addition to the cities where these offices are located, Boston, Providence, Lansing, Springfield (Ill.), Madison, St. Paul, Helena, San Francisco, Denver, and Des Moines were visited.
It is evident that the subject is one which does not admit of such statistical definiteness in the statement of results as might be desired. The several employment oflices have statistics in abundance to offer; but these can not be taken as absolutely correct, owing to the fact that people will not always report as to employment when the service is free.
From the experience of the several States and municipalities in conducting employment offices the free public employment office must be regarded thus far as an experiment with some failures, many mistakes, and several successes to be recorded as its briefest summary. The failures have not been upon fundamental points and the mistakes are believed to be preventable. The history of this movement has been one of progression and not retrogression, though the progress must be looked for as a whole rather than within any one of the sev
eral States. The individual States have shown but little inclination I to modify their earlier enactments or to profit by the experience of others.
The offices have not uniformly followed the practice of giving their services without the payment of a fee. The experience where a fee has been charged indicates that perhaps the best results would be obtained from a small fee which each applicant for employment should pay for each position he secures, following the principle of
making the service pay its own expenses. This fee could be collected l'subsequent to employment.
The offices should be located whenever practicable in the city hall or the court-house. This is desirable for two reasons: First, that the burden of the support of the office may be distributed between the State and the locality, the latter accounting at least for the item of rent, the former assuming responsibility for all remaining expenses; second, in order that the office may be as closely as possible associated with other social services, and be placed incidentally on an equal footing with other public offices.
That those seeking employment should be protected from the schemes of the unscrupulous has been urged more than any other
motive as a reason for the establishment of free public employment offices. The experience of the various States does not justify the belief that free competition by the State can be relied upon alone to drive out the unscrupulous private agencies or correct their abuses. To accomplish this object the first requisite is a law covering the specific abuses. Following the system developed in Illinois, the free public employment office may be used as a valuable adjunct in the administration of such a law.
A second motive advanced is the need of a public agency to furnish all possible assistance to the unemployed seeking employment. Private initiative can not be relied upon to do this for the reason that it must make merchandise of men's necessities to an extent that is socially harmful, even when conducted as a legitimate business and entirely free from extortionate practices.
The economic motive is a third reason advanced in justification of the free public employment office. This may be analyzed into the saving of money to those for whom it is needful that money should be saved, and the bringing together the laborer in search of work and the employer seeking help, thus with the least possible expense reducing unemployment to a minimum and supplying the demand for workers to the fullest extent.
The private employment offices in large cities have become highly differentiated and, while the cost is sometimes excessive and exorbitant, in many cases they render a higher grade of service than the public office. As a rule it is safer to trust the public offices for the lower grades of employment, but in the higher grades it is possible in many cases to get better service through the private offices.
Specialization of the free employment office is theoretically possible, but by reason of the expense to the State it is impracticable save in an elementary degree, namely, the separation of the skilled from the unskilled labor market by the establishment of two corresponding grades of offices. Whether the State offices, if on a self-supporting basis, could equal the private agencies in efficiency is altogether problematic. There is often a large unsatisfied demand for unskilled labor.
On the other hand there is at times a large supply of this grade of labor outside of the larger industrial centers, in the towns and small cities where there is no great industrial activity. Bringing these two factors of the labor market together would be a great economic gain and much more desirable than the encouragement of immigration to satisfy the labor demand.
The “mail order” system of free employment offices has furnished most of the instances of failure. This system is simply a labor registry for employer and employee and necessitates a correspondence bureau at the State capital, where the real work of fitting the man to the job is essayed by correspondence. In the light of American experience this system is successful only in the supplying of harvest hands in the wheat belt.
The commissioner of labor of California opened without any legislative authorization a free employment office in San Francisco, July 15, 1895. It was expected that the results would convince the legislature of the feasibility of the enterprise and of the necessity of continuing it as a remedy for the evils of the private agencies. During the preceding month circulars were sent throughout the State announcing the organization of the office; and on the day appointed, according to the report of the bureau of labor, there were "crowds awaiting for admission before the doors were opened.” Through the assistance of public-spirited citizens the office was later able to move into more commodious quarters, and the work grew. Considerable care seems to have been exercised in placing men in positions. During the first year applications for employment numbered 18,920, of which 14,251 were for men. The positions secured were 5,845, of which 3,314 were for men. Thus the positions secured amounted to 30.89 per cent of the applications, while the number of men who secured work was somewhat less than one-fourth of the number that applied. The number of applications for help is not given in the reports, but the low percentage of positions secured is probably due to the lack of employers. The effect upon private agencies was merely to diminish their business in some measure.
The commissioner in the end was disappointed because the legislature did not grant the desired support, and the free employment office was discontinued.
In the biennial report for 1899–1900, a new commissioner being in charge of the bureau of labor, a line of argument is presented, the purport of which is that a better method of reaching the evils of the private agency is by specific legislation, and there is submitted the following legislative programme:
1. Prohibiting the collection of an employment-agency fee in any case prior to the time when information of a situation such as sought for, and actually then open to the applicant, is given to the applicant.
2. Requiring prompt return of the fee to the payer, in all cases wherein the position for which payment was made is, through no fault of the applicant, not open to him as understood when fee was paid.
3. Making employment agents responsible for reasonable costs and expenses incurred in going to and returning from place to which directed, by applicants paying fees as herein, in all cases wherein the place to which directed shall be in any material respect other than as represented when fee was paid and in all cases wherein places are not open, above, through no fault of the applicánt.