Out of Work chronicles the history of unemployment in the United States. It traces the evolution of the problem of joblessness from the early decades of the nineteenth-century to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Challenging the widely held notion that the United States was a labour-scarce society in which jobs were plentiful, it argues that unemployment played a major role in American history long before the crash of the stock market in 1929. Focusing on the state of Massachusetts, Professor Kevssar analyses the economic and social changes that gave birth to the prevalent concept of unemployment. Drawing on previously untapped sources - including richly detailed statistics and vivid verbatim testimony - he demonstrates that joblessness was a pervasive feature of working-class life from the 1870s to the 1920s. The book describes the ingenious, yet quite costly, strategies that unemployed workers devised to cope with the joblessness in the absence of formal governmental assistance. It also explores the many dimensions of working-class life that were profoundly affected by recurrent layoffs and the chronic uncertainty of work. Finally, it demonstrates that the fundamental contours of the Massachusetts experience were repeated, sooner or later, throughout the United States.
List of illustrations and tables; Preface; 1. Introduction; 2. The social origins of unemployment; 3. The era of uncertainty; 4. Sharing the burden; 5. From place to place; 6. Coping; 7. Organizing labor; 8. From the Common to the State House; 9. 'The greatest evil of our competitive industrial system'; 10. Epilogue; Appendices; Notes; Index.