The Gilded Age brought many changes to the American worker, and the American workforce. The impact of the Gilded Age could be seen across the country. From the decline of small businesses to rapid urbanization, the United States would be altered following the Gilded Age.
With the growth of industry and big business, many Americans who owned small businesses based around a learned trade were forced out of business. They were simply unable to compete with the mass production and low costs of production associated with big business. Many of these skilled workers even found themselves employed by the big businesses that they couldn't compete with.
The Gilded Age also saw a change in the nature of the American workforce in terms of a shift from agriculture to industry. In the years leading up to the Gilded Age, a number of agriculture and infrastructure improvements occurred. With greater availability of the steel plow and the mechanical reaper, it became possible for farmers to farm greater amounts of land. This, combined with a growing railway network, led to larger-scale farming and farming in areas where it had not previously been as prevalent. This led to an overproduction of agricultural goods and a drop in the price of these goods (increased supply without increased demand). The result was that many small farmers found that agriculture was no longer an economically viable option. Many of these small farmers left agriculture behind and instead chose to seek better opportunities working in factories in cities. This led to rapid urbanization and the development of problems within cities. Problems developed because available housing and city infrastructure couldn't keep up with the pace of urbanization.
Another impact of industry during the Gilded Age was a change in economic status of American workers. The Gilded Age marked the beginning of a growing working class, as the number of people working in factories increased. Mass production of goods such as clothing led to reduced prices and the ability of those in the working class to be able to afford more. This can be considered by some to be an increase in the standard of living, at least in terms of material value, for Gilded Age American workers.
Politically, working Americans did not have much support during the Gilded Age. There were few restrictions placed on owners of big businesses, and many big business leaders had significant influence in various levels of government. This meant that many American factory workers faced unsafe conditions, worked extremely long hours, and had low wages. Additionally, child labor was also extremely common. It wouldn't be until the Progressive Era at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s that change would be made in an attempt to control the practices of big business.
While working Americans didn't have great amounts of support from politicians of the Gilded Age, they did make efforts to improve their own situation. It was during the Gilded Age that there was growth in both labor union membership and the number of labor unions across the country. They organized to demand safer working conditions, fewer working hours, and better pay.
The effects of the Gilded Age were felt across the United States. Whether we are looking at an agricultural worker, a factory worker, or someone with a specific skill or trade, the effects of growing industry in the Gilded Age were felt. The Gilded Age marked a change in the American social and economic landscape, and the development of a very different America.