MAY 26, 1947
SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Sunday—The more I read about the investigation of New York City's Welfare Department, the more I realize how very complicated the situation is becoming not only in New York but all over the country.
In itself, the story of the New York family which received so much relief money for hotel housing is really quite fantastic, and one feels that it was a waste. Yet somehow the situation goes deeper than just that particular fact. The man in the case was making a good salary, but still it wasn't enough to feed the number of children in his family. When he found that rising prices made it impossible for him to live, his wife took a job as janitor. This gave them an apartment rent free and an additional $40 a month, on which they were able to manage. But then the woman had another baby, and when she could not keep up with the duties of her job she was dismissed. At that point, it was either the Welfare Department finding them a place to live—or the park, with nine children.
There seem to be a good many questions involved here. One of them obviously is: What are good wages? The answer, of course, depends entirely on what you can buy with your wages. It will be recalled that we were assured some months ago by certain interested parties that if we did away with OPA there might be a slight rise in some prices for a short time, but that everything would then find its proper level. Well, in spite of all the wage increases—and there have been quite a number—wages have never caught up with the rise in prices. Every time wages go up, prices have to go up too. People therefore begin to talk about real wages—wages you must have in order to live decently. More and more people are beginning to wonder how you can get them.
The Newburyport plan was doomed to failure as a solution for this problem. Unless the people selling to the Newburyport merchants brought their own prices down 10 percent, the merchants themselves simply could not go on keeping their prices down. On this whole question, as far as I can see, the government is just drifting, with the administration begging responsible business people to lower prices and with Congress urging fewer restrictions and a cut in taxes.
Nobody really faces the situation brought to light in New York City. The relief rolls are rising. People cannot live on what they get when on relief. They can't even live decently on the wages that the city pays them in certain jobs, plus relief. In other words, inflation is here, and individuals on a voluntary basis cannot handle the situation.
We are drifting toward a "bust." The sooner the government and individuals of goodwill get together and work out something like Chester Bowles' recently published plan, the better it will be. I do not think the people will have the same patience which they showed back in the early Thirties. We had therefore better do some preventative work now, instead of waiting to meet a crisis with a drastic cure.