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The Effect of Occupation on the Health
and Duration of the Trade
Life of Workmen.
National health and national wealth are the fundamental requisites of all national existence. Without these, no nation can develop itself, become great, progressive, and prosperous. Upon its constructive activity, its labor force, and the continued abundance of its products, depend the continuity, wealth, morality, and vitality of a people. But in order that production may be abundant and of superior quality, the individual worker, the unit of the nation, must be physically and intellectually developed; for the better his physical and intellectual development, the greater will be the quantity and the better the quality of his product, and the greater the wealth of the State.
The labor force being thus the groundwork of the prosperity of the State, to maintain in its most efficient condition the total amount of productive energy at present existing, to prevent its deterioration, to increase it to its utmost possible capacity in the future, should be the aim of all true statesmanship. If it be discovered, that in any given industry, the, demise of the worker takes place before the ordinary average number of years of life expectancy has been reached, the natural conclusion to be drawn from the fact would be, that certain causes, perhaps visible and known, perhaps hidden and ignored, are at work to produce the effect observed; that exhaustion caused by over-exertion of the physical forces, or the absence of proper hygienic conditions, or a combination of both, might be found to be responsible for the results. In either case, or whatever may be the cause, we may be assured that the active working
period as well as the productive capacity of the individual is curtailed, which curtailment is an economic loss to the State.
Human life has a value which can be expressed in dollars, and its pecuniary worth is to be measured by the amount of the production of wealth which it contributes to the State during its passage from the cradle to the grave. Life has a monetary value from the fact that a certain amount of capital is sunk in its production and maintainance. At first it is all expenditure, and a certain necessary outlay goes on to the end in order to preserve it and keep life in being. This valuation of life differs from that of the mother to whom her helpless child is inestimably precious, and from that of the man ready in his filial sympathy to sacrifice his life for his parents; but it agrees well with the popular appreciation of the value of life as expressed by a whole nation when one of its citizens, who has been a conspicuous character and who has rendered great and valuable services to the commonwealth, dies.
To obtain a knowledge of the economic loss to a nation consequent upon the premature demise of the worker, probably no well directed and continuous effort has ever been made. The obstacles standing in the way are numerous, and so fugitive is the character of the evidence upon which it may be based, that it is almost unattainable in the present state of data, or rather absence of data, upon the point; nor can such data be of value until sufficient have been accumulated and compared, and a sufficient length of time has elapsed to admit of something like correctness in generalization. Although the example of mechanics who work over heated furnaces and in vitiated air, founders, stokers, engineers, charcoal burners, miners and the like, goes to prove that the human lungs may ultimately adjust themselves to unhealthy conditions, and although life, being vitiated and poisoned with different forms of disease, may in rare instances be prolonged to old age, yet we know these cases to be exceptions and not the rule. We have nothing on which to base an estimate of the number of years of active and productive life lost to the state by premature death. *
*Dr. Jarvis in the health report of Massachusetts calculated a loss of time in 1870 of 24,553.8 months for that year in that State from sickness, not including ailments of less than a week's duration as cases of chronic impaired power arising from various causes.
It must undoubtedly vary in each industry and also be modified by the varied conditions under which an industry may be conducted from one period to another.* Only by carefully compared and verified statistics in each particular occupation, during a series of years can an exact result be obtained. But we can have no hesitation in conceiving of the possibility of prolonging human life in many industries. It is a well observed and well known fact that some industries are highly prejudicial to health, and greatly reduce the period of life of those engaged in them. And though the length of that period in any given industry is not known with anything approximating to certainty, we do know that, taken as a whole, the average life of the human race has increased.† All mortuary tables agree in giving evidence of that fact. The death rates in all the countries of Europe are known with more or less exactness according to the care taken in collecting them, or the importance attached to the subject by the respective governments. In our own country we may boast of a greater average length of life of our citizens over any other example of recorded history. And it is not reasonable to suppose, in face of the increased longevity already achieved by the human race within comparatively recent historical times, that the limit has been reached. The three score and ten years of man may yet be rounded in health and vigor, and during the plenitude of his power his energies and capacities should honor and enrich the State. It should be the aim of statesmanship to secure this end.
If the average period of life of a worker, in any given industry, is found to be much shorter than the average period of workers in other industries, we may very reasonably attribute the fact to some cause; the effort should then be made to discover the cause. The next step would be to search for a remedy. Should the remedy require the presence of legislative action, wisdom would dictate its
*For instance, there is more of "devil's dust" in large factories and carding mills than when weaving was a domestic industry and the spinning wheel was in use,
Our modern system of statistics obtained neither in antiquity nor the middle ages, and we must necessarily, therefore, accept statements respecting these periods with considerable reserve, for example, that, as some historians tell us, the average life in Rome at the time of the Cæsars was but eighteen years, or twenty years in England in the Elizabethan period. In Rome this average to-day is 40 years, in England much greater. In France the average life of the population during the past half century has been raised from 28 to 45 years.