The Social Question – William Lancer Blog Post

In the article “The Social Question” by William Lancer, he describes the term “pauperism” which is the increase of poverty and the worsening of the lower classes. The article takes place in 1840s Europe. The industrial workers and the skilled workers were all suffering, this may have been to the increase of industrialization since it was more prominent in more urban areas. Industrialization resulted in more and inexpensive production, however, the increase of it was predicted to cause social disaster. This idea of pauperism ended up being false because pauperism was also prominent in rural areas that was less exposed to industrialization. The real reason for the increase in poverty was the overpopulation of Europe that began in 1790. Overpopulation causes an increase of unemployment because there are more people than there are jobs, which causes most people to have insufficient funds for everyday necessities.

Lancer describes some European workers in the traditional skilled handicrafts and trades, as also foundrymen and the new mechanics that made enough to live comfortably and eat well. However, the types of jobs that most workers had available to them, such as coal miners and factory workers and how workers hardly made enough to get by. He also describes the wages in different areas of Europe such as, the difference in payment for work in England than in France and Belgium and Switzerland. The people most distraught by the unemployment from the overpopulation were heirloom weavers because weavers fell into their occupation because they were unskilled workers and people in the cotton industry because of the competition with machines, the wages of the people in these occupations received less and less compensation for their work as the years passed.

Men, women, and children had to turn to textile and factories for jobs, which was an unstable job and hard job that required 15 hour work days. When hired in a textile, nobody knew how long their employment was going to last, they could lose their job at any point. Even with these jobs, the people made very minimal money that got them very little clothes, food, and shelter. Lancer does a very good job giving the reader an image of Europe during these times, he described what the people in places all over Europe could afford and where the workers had to work and what everyone earned during these times.

I’ve included two scholarly article links regarding “pauperism”. Both of these articles included definitions and causes for pauperism in different locations and at different times. The first article is titled “Poverty, Pauperism, and Social Order in the PreIndustrial American City, 1780-1840” by Raymond A Mohl from Florida Atlantic University. He writes about poverty in pauperism in America before the Industrial Revolution which is taking place during the time described in the Lancer article I’ve just summarized for you. I’ve included this article to further your understanding of pauperism and to put it in a global perspective. The second article is titles “The Problem of the Poor in 19th Century Europe” which goes further into detail the cause of pauperism in Europe and why it came about. Please read these articles if you’d like to know more about pauperism or the history of europe during the mid 19th century Europe.


Blog by Erica Alvarez


Word Count: 544





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