Immigration and Urbanization

Start Free Trial

What challenges did workers in late 1800s American cities face?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

During the early 1800s, it was illegal for workers to agitate for better-working conditions by withholding their services or actively inciting other workers to down their tools. This situation improved in the mid-1800s when such laws were expunged, however, this did not change the working conditions.

Workers continued to suffer from dangerous working conditions, especially, when the industries expanded. Workers had no legal opportunity to pursue issues related to accidents at the workplace. The workers were not entitled to compensation and most of the time the individual who was hurt was fired. By 1900, the factories were claiming the lives of approximately 35,000 workers annually.

Workers were forced to work for 12 hours a day with others working even longer. They were not entitled to retirement benefits and most elderly former workers were exposed to extreme poverty and dependency on working family members.

The government supported the deployment of armed troops to end strikes by the early labor unions, such conditions claimed a majority of workers who were shot during the conflicts.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Workers faced many problems in American cities in the late 1800s. One problem was overcrowding. Many of the workers lived in very crowded apartment buildings called tenements. This was because they could not afford to pay higher rents for housing. There were a lot of immigrants coming to the country, and they settled in the cities. This led to an oversupply of workers and very crowded conditions in cities.

Another problem workers faced was very poor working conditions. Because of the surplus of workers and the relatively unskilled work they did, their pay was low. Because many of the jobs required unskilled labor, workers could be easily replaced. Workers conditions were terrible, and the hours were long. There was little the workers could do about these conditions.

When workers tried to unionize, they often were unsuccessful. There were no laws protecting unions. Courts rarely sided with unions in the disputes they had with the business owners. Most strikes ended unsuccessfully. Workers faced an uphill battle in the late 1800s.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Workers encountered all sorts of problems in American cities in the late 1800s.  Some of these were problems that would have been found at work.  At work, they would have faced harsh and sometimes dangerous working conditions.  They would also have gotten rather low wages.  These poor conditions at work were common to almost all industrial workers in American cities in those days.  There were also problems to be encountered outside of work.  Many of these problems came about because of the conditions in which the workers had to live.  They did not have much money and so they lived in cramped tenements.  These were unhealthy and unpleasant places.  There were also problems with crime and with predatory landlords.  All of these contributed to making life difficult for workers in urban America in the late 1800s.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial