The Measure of Poverty.
Sec. 1. The National Income, and the Share of the Wage-earners.—To give a clear meaning and a measure of poverty is the first requisite. Who are the poor? The “poor law,” on the one hand, assigns a meaning too narrow for our purpose, confining the application of the name to “the destitute,” who alone are recognized as fit subjects of legal relief. The common speech of the comfortable classes, on the other hand, not infrequently includes the whole of the wage-earning class under the title of “the poor.” As it is our purpose to deal with the pressure of poverty as a painful social disease, it is evident that the latter meaning is unduly wide. The “poor,” whose condition is forcing “the social problem” upon the reluctant minds of the “educated” classes, include only the lower strata of the vast wage-earning class.
But since dependence upon wages for the support of life will be found closely related to the question of poverty, it is convenient to throw some preliminary light on the measure of poverty, by figures bearing on the general industrial condition of the wage-earning class. To measure poverty we must first measure wealth. What is the national income, and how is it divided? will naturally arise as the first questions. Now although the data for accurate measurement of the national income are somewhat slender, there is no very wide discrepancy in the results reached by the most skilful statisticians. For practical purposes we may regard the sum of L1,800,000,000 as fairly representing the national income. But when we put the further question, “How is this income divided among the various classes of the community?” we have to face wider discrepancies of judgment. The difficulties which beset a fair calculation of interest and profits, have introduced unconsciously a partisan element into the discussion. Certain authorities, evidently swayed by a desire to make the best of the present condition of the working-classes, have reached a low estimate of interest and profits, and a high estimate of wages; while others, actuated by a desire to emphasize the power of the capitalist classes, have minimized the share which goes as wages. At the outset of our inquiry, it might seem well to avoid such debatable ground. But the importance of the subject will not permit it to be thus shirked. The following calculation presents what is, in fact, a compromise of various views, and can only claim to be a rough approximation to the truth.
Taking the four ordinary divisions: Rent, as payment for the use of land, for agriculture, housing, mines, etc.; Interest for the use of business capital; Profit as wages of management and superintendence; and Wages, the weekly earnings of the working-classes, we find that the national income can be thus fairly apportioned—