What positive and negative influences did the Industrial Revolution have on employment?

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carolynosborne eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Industrial Revolution arose during the 18th century in England due to shifts in technology and had both positive and negative effects on the lives of workers.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing took place on a small scale. There might be a local blacksmith who would make metal items necessary for farming but families were also likely to make their own cloth for clothing. A miller would process grains for a village so that families could turn their own wheat into flour.

During the late 18th century, all this began to change. For example, looms became larger, which made it possible to create cloth factories. Technology created automatic processes for weaving patterns in cloth which meant that weavers could work faster without having to focus on maintaining the pattern themselves. Instead of weaving their own cloth, housewives bought factory-made cloth.

With the rise of factories, employment opportunities increased. No longer did a person have to be in a long apprenticeship prior to being able to make a living; factory jobs did not require nearly as much training. Thus, it became easier to work for money and jobs were plentiful.

The problem is that these jobs were often exploitive. Steam power, on which factories in the 19th century ran, was dangerous. A boiler could explode and kill hundreds of people in short order; disasters happened to working people in the past, but because of the scale of factories, more people could die quickly if an accident happened.

It was expensive to create a factory and industrialists were eager to see profits. As a result, they kept wages down and work hours long. It was cheaper to hire children from poor families, so these youngsters were denied an education and, instead, worked long hours. Sarah Cleghorn wrote a famous poem about this situation:

The golf links lie so near the mill

That almost every day

The laboring children can look out

And see the men at play.

Thus, while the industrial revolution made jobs more accessible to people, the quality of life for those who worked in the factories suffered due to long hours of work in poor and dangerous conditions.  

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