Margaret Sanger, "Wasting our Human Resources," Mar 1920.

Source: " Birth Control Review Mar. 1920, pp. 9-11 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S70:0837."


Wasting Our Human Resources

By Margaret Sanger

One person in a half million, perhaps, has some sort of comprehension of the terrific rate at which we people of the United States are wasting our most precious resources. These particular resources are not rich soils, forests, mineral deposits and the like--though we waste those prodigally, too--but the lives of the people. So-called "natural resources" are of no use until they have been developed by the genius and skill of human beings. It is in the strength, genius and skill, of the people that the real wealth of a nation lies. These qualities reflect themselves in health, happiness and longevity, as well as in ability to utilize natural resources, and these human assets we waste even more riotously than we do the assets which have come to us from the generous hands of Nature.

The sum total of this waste, expressed in dollars, runs into incalculable billions, and this does not take into account the still more terrible sum of misery brought about by our present callous and unreckoning policy.

This condition will continue unabated while we have unlimited human resources to draw upon. We have wasted our "natural wealth" like a nation of "drunken sailors" and are only now beginning to make the first faint effort to conserve it for sound uses. We will go on destroying our human wealth in the same fashion until we come to the realization that this wealth also has its limitations. We shall then, in the natural course of things, make better and higher use of this wealth and become a truly great people. But we will do this only when, through Birth Control, we have limited the supply of human beings and have brought to their senses those who are content now to waste human lives like chaff.

In National Vitality, Its Wastes and Conservation (Fisher), which is Senate Document No. 416 of the Sixty-first Congress, it is shown that "in the United States there are probably at all times about 3,000,000 persons seriously ill, and every day 1,700 unnecessary deaths." It does not take long to discover that the loss of the productive time of these 3,000,000 sick persons, most of whom, perhaps, are suffering from the diseases recognized as preventable, runs into the billions. And other sums of national wealth, equally staggering, are lost through the unnecessary deaths. Seventeen hundred deaths a day is more than one death each minute, and even computing each life as worth only $1,700 to the country, it means that the United States is wasting, in this item alone, nearly $3,000,000,000 a year. The conservation of these lives and the proper utilization of these human resources would pay off our national debt within a few years. If we could also apply to the national debt the cost of caring for the unnecessarily sick, the United States could very shortly face the world without a cent of financial obligation.

Of the 1,500,000 who die in the United States each year, according to the report quoted above, 150,000, or one in ten, are consumptives. One in six of the persons constantly and seriously ill are also suffering from tuberculosis. Of the 20,000,000 school children in the United States, one in ten will die of tuberculosis if they continue to die at the present rate, according to Lewis M. Terman, in a report of a medical survey of the Public School System of Oregon.

Yet the United States has never taken any serious measures to deal with the "white plague." There are associations of individuals who have been trying for years to arouse both the people and the government of states and nation to this peril, but the terrible toll-taking goes on and the governments, which have both the power and the resources to grapple with the problem, still neglect to attack it in an effective manner. Meanwhile, except for more or less palliative state and local measures, the causes of tuberculosis are permitted to operate in full force. Save where labor unions have forced a shorter day, the hours of work continue to be so long as to exhaust completely the worker and expose his system to the attacks of the ever present scourge. The Fisher report calls attention to this fact thus: "The present working day, from a physiological point of view, is too long, and keeps the majority of men and women in a continual state of over-fatigue."

An example of the extent to which individuals are permitted for their private profit to waste the vital resources of the nation through maintaining breeding places for tuberculosis and other diseases is that to which attention is called by Lawrence Veiller, in Housing Reform, issued by the Charities Publishing Company of New York in 1911. Said he: "In the lower East Side of New York City dwell 500,000 people, most of them immigrants. In 1910 there were over 10,000 tenements with 'air shafts,' furnishing neither sunlight nor fresh air."

During the year ending June 30, 1914, for example, there were admitted to the United States 1,250,000 immigrants, most of whom were compelled to seek the company of other millions who had come in other years, in communities where the housing conditions were often but little better than those described. While such conditions exist, there is little hope for curtailing either the sickness rate or the death rate from tuberculosis in the United States.

Neither can there be hope of curtailment while 2,500,000 children are permitted to give up their strength in factories, or men are compelled to kill the tissues of their lungs in ill ventilated factories or in the "dusty trades" where the protection afforded them is too often inadequate when such protection is afforded at all.

Again, the tuberculosis toll cannot be reduced to its lowest level until women are educated in the use of contraceptives. Pregnancy renders tuberculosis fatal at certain stages and always aggravates it. Moreover, to continue to deny tubercular women the use of contraceptives means that every year there is a fresh crop of children coming into the world predisposed to the disease.

While the Great War was in progress, the United States government took a most commendable step toward educating the people as to the danger of venereal disease. It was only a beginning, however, and if the tremendous waste of vital wealth is to be competently checked, direct and vigorous efforts must be made by state and federal agencies to arrest this scourge. Thus far, nothing appreciable has been done, except to patch up a few of the wrecks and send them forth, quite as likely as not, to communicate their diseases to others. Bulletin No. 8, issued in June, 1915, from the office of the Surgeon General of the United States Army, showed that one man in five of the class from which men were drawn for the army suffered from syphilis. It was estimated by Fisher, in the report referred to, that there are 2,000,000 syphilitics in the United States. Most of these syphilitics are perfectly at liberty to infect others, if they are in the stage of the disease at which it is communicable. And the heritage of syphilis is the heritage of disease in manifold forms, ranging from insanity or total physical disability to general ill health. To say nothing of its huge total of physical and mental suffering, this disease alone represents financial loss to the nation of billions.

Tuberculosis is not the only disease that reaps a rich harvest from the 2,500,000 child laborers of the United States and from the weakly descendants of such laborers. The wearing out of the youthful body, the lack of recreation, the sapping of the basic forces of life, brings all manner of diseases to these unfortunates and if they are not claimed by death, they bring another crop of human weaklings who in their turn become victims.

One of the expedients which we must inevitably adopt, in order that the problem of disease and its causes may be intelligently handled, is that of registering the sick. Physicians should be required to report all cases of serious illness each day. Simple records should be kept by departments of health. Thus, the health authorities would have at their disposition a mass of data that would enable them to plan and execute effective campaigns for the elimination of disease. The individual, seeking to improve his own health, could consult these records which would cover his health history from birth.

According to R. C. Richards, chairman of the Central Safety Commission, and to the Final Report of the (Federal) Committee on Industrial Relations, filed in 1915, there are 35,000 killed each year in industrial accidents and 700,000 injured. Again the cost in misery, maintenance of the injured and loss to the nation reaches an appalling total. As H. H. Moore points out in The Youth and The Nation, "this means that every day in the United States nearly 100 are killed in industry and nearly 2,000 are injured--that one man is killed every fifteen minutes and one is injured every minute, twenty-four hours a day." The explanation is lack of proper safeguards--a greed for private profit that is each minute of the day robbing the nation of untold wealth.

A still more far-reaching cause of loss of vital wealth than any yet mentioned is the want of the masses, with its terrible harvest of unhappiness, disease and crime. King, in his Distribution of Wealth and Income, estimates that "over 50 per cent of the wealth of the United States is owned by only two per cent of the people." Other authorities place the percentage of wealth owned by two per cent of the people nearer to ninety per cent Towne, in Social Problems, says that there are probably 10,000,000 persons in the United States living in poverty, while there are 5,000,000 dependent upon some form of public relief. Senator Borah, who is a Republican presidential possibility, and who spoke presumably from the best figures that could be compiled from information in the Census Bureau, said in a speech in the United States senate, August 24, 1917, that seventy per cent of the families in the United States had an income of $1,000 a year or less and that a man supporting a family thus is an "industrial peon."

When these conditions prevail, what must be the terrible harvest of disease, crime, and weakened family stock, to produce through generations, more and more disease and crime! This in itself is sufficient to wipe out a nation, but for fear these unfortunates may limit their numbers, the governments of the nation and of most of the states use all possible means to stop the spread of Birth Control information, which would automatically check the multiplication of this hardship and social loss.

Only two of the factors of national loss and racial weakness springing out of a system that piles up huge fortunes on one hand and slums on the other, can be considered here. The census shows that in 1910 there were 100,000 children before juvenile courts, of which 14,000, mostly boys, were sent to so-called corrective institutions. It is well know that these boys are more than likely to go to penitentiaries or jail later on, owing to the influences surrounding them in reform schools.

As shown by the National Child Labor Committee in Pamphlet 276, the juvenile delinquency increased thirty-four per cent in Berlin during the war. It is hardly likely that the youth of the United States has shown a more favorable reaction, and the conditions as to juvenile delinquency are probably much worse than they were in 1910.

In 1910 also there were 11,498 persons in jails, penitentiaries and similar institutions in the United States--and most of these, as every student of sociology knows, come out stamped with disgrace and educated in crime.

The United States has yet to solve the problem of dealing with criminals and it has not yet learned either to stop creating them or to permit overburdened mothers to so limit their families that they will not bring into the world children who are in danger of becoming criminals.

As early as 1890 there were in the United States 400,000 feeble minded persons, according to Goddard, in Feeble mindedness; Its Causes and Consequence. This, taking into consideration the difficulty of detecting certain degrees of feeble mindedness, the tendency of families to conceal mental defects of their members, and the haphazard way in which statistics as to feeble minded are gathered, is probably a very low estimate, even for thirty years ago. Be that as it may, something of the appalling result of permitting the perpetuation of mentally feeble strains is shown by two classical examples. When it is remembered that most of the feeble minded are free, either all their lives or at some time in their lives, to reproduce their kind, the situation takes on an ominousness that bespeaks prompt and effective action.

Martin Kallikak, Jr., a feeble minded man, married Rhoda Zabeth, a normal woman, in 1803. They had ten children. From these children have come not less than 470 descendants, and of the progeny of Martin Kallikak, Jr., there were 143 feeble minded, 36 illegitimate children, 33 sexually immoral persons, mostly prostitutes, 24 confirmed alcoholics, 3 epileptics, 82 who died in infancy, 3 proprietors of houses of ill fame and 3 criminals. Birth Control would have been an inestimable blessing there, and even more of a blessing to the Jukes family.

There were 1,200 descendants of the founder of the Jukes clan in 75 years. Of these, 130 were professional paupers, who in all spent 2,300 years in poorhouses, 50 prostitutes, 7 murderers, 60 habitual thieves and 130 common criminals. One authority estimates that the loss of potential usefulness, cost of prosecutions, expense of maintenance and so on, for this family amounts to $1,300,000 in 75 years.

There are thousands of Kallikaks and Jukes at large in the United States to perpetuate their kind. Social agencies, physicians and departments of health have much to answer for when they fail to tell women of such families how to avoid having children. Unfortunately, however, they encourage rather than discourage this multiplication of misery and social loss through the reproduction of such defectives as these.

There are several million women in industry in the United States. There are other millions who work quite as hard or harder in their homes. These women are potential mothers, when not already actually mothers, as is usually the case. Most of them are over-fatigued each day; most of them, perhaps, are already suffering from disease. They achieve little relief by their labors. As Nearing pointed out in Wages in the United States (1911), "probably two-fifths or more of the women wage earners earn less than $6 a week." Wages are higher now, but in most cases, the rising prices have outstripped the increase.

"It is now generally believed to be in accordance with the laws of hereditary descent," says Dr. Nathan Allen in the Law of Human Increase, "that the mother, not the father, transmits the vitality and stamina, the strength of the physical system to the child. It becomes, then, vastly important that the mother herself have the right kind of constitution." The time is coming when we shall look back with horror upon our present policy of permitting the mother stamina to be killed by toil. We shall also wonder why we were blind enough to compel a mother incapable of transmitting strength to her children to bring such children into the world.

Can the nation endure with these great factors of destruction and waste operating unchecked? It cannot. It will die as other nations have died and give place to more vigorous peoples.

What is the remedy? Only this--to take our vast stock of human wealth in hand. We have wasted it prodigally because we have had an unlimited supply. We have had more than we could use in the highest way and to the best advantage. We have been content with quantity, rather than quality. Let it be repeated that we shall continue this course until we resort to the limiting of our numbers--to Birth Control. When our numbers are cut down, these human resources will appear to us in their true light--as the most precious of all our possessions. We shall guard the health and the happiness of each individual for the service that he can render to himself and to the whole of society. We shall make the best possible use of our material. We shall conserve human vitality for constructive social uses. We shall guard it more zealously than we now guard our gold.


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