American History II
A Reflection on "How the Other Half Lives" by the Other Half
The author of "How the Other Half Lives", Jacob Riis, inscribes on the deplorable living conditions of the Progressive Era from a first-person perspective. Riis, an immigrant, police reporter, photojournalist and most importantly: a pioneer and social reformer, tells a very captivating yet appalling experience of the lower class life in New York City beginning in the 19th century. Migration and the standardization of establishments are the attributing factors to overpopulation distribution and overcrowding of living arrangements in the city.
With the ever growing craze of coming to America and starting a new and better life many immigrants had to start from the bottom, and many stayed there. Ethnic groups tended to stick together and in result "claimed" their own territory; many worked low-wage jobs and were poverty-stricken. The only affordable shelter in close proximity to work and their community were overcrowded housing tenements, overcrowded being an understatement. From 1869 to 1890 tenement housing almost tripled to over 37,000 tenements in use.(p204 Riis) Houses and blocks were turned into barracks, giving a whole new meaning to overcrowding, and the expense unjust compared to living conditions. Tenements were the equivalent of coal mines; in early developments there were no safety standards, just the quickest way to make the most amount of money, with lack of sunlight and air ventilation.
The epitome of poor management regarding the lack of attempt of turnabout in the nature of tenements by landlords were shown through model tenements; the care and up-keeping focused mainly in the facade of buildings rather than continual care within the walls of confinements. Mortality rates in the city rose to one-in-twenty-seven persons in 1855 due to the severe lacking living conditions and negligence of...
Cited: Riis, Jacob. How the Other Half Lives. New York: Penguin Group, 1997.
Jack Newfield. "How the Other Half Still Lives." The Nation. Posted 27 February 2003. 17 March 2003 issue.
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