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HOUSING AND LIVING CONDITIONS.
General housing and living conditions-Rent in its relation to standard of living— Boarders and lodgers-Size of apartments occupied-Size of households studied— Congestion [Text Tables 687 to 698 and General Tables 394 to 405].
GENERAL HOUSING AND LIVING CONDITIONS.
In describing household conditions the different races may be classified in three general divisions. The first division includes the native whites, English, Welsh, and Scotch. The second, the Poles, Slovaks, South Italians, and negroes, and the third, the Greeks, Bulgarians, and Macedonians. There are material differences in the systems of living practiced by these three classes.
The greater number of native whites employed in the territory immediately adjacent to Birmingham are skilled laborers. The unskilled labor is composed principally of the South Italian and Slav races and the negro.
Household conditions among the Americans are far superior to conditions prevailing among the Slavs and South Italians, and it is, of course, unnecessary to compare this class with the negroes. Modern facilities for comfort and sanitation are in much more extensive use. The home is more spacious and is furnished in comfort if not in a slight degree of luxury.
In the outlying towns of this locality the proportion of Americans employed in bituminous coal mining and unskilled labor is much greater than in the territory immediately adjacent to Birmingham, and many of the mines are operated exclusively by native white and negro labor. In these environments the home of the native white laborer is frequently devoid of the more modern equipment and sanitation, though there is no lack of material comfort. His house usually affords space for a separate dining room and kitchen, and separate living room, in many instances. The front room or parlor, reserved for the entertainment of guests, is an almost invariable feature of the home.
The boarding-boss system, practiced by the South Italian and Slav races, is unknown to the natives. Occasionally a few boarders on the American plan are found.
Approximately 90 per cent of the negroes employed in this locality live in rented houses. Where company houses are not available the negroes usually settle in that section of the town where, because of the absence of improved streets, water, or lighting facilities, or for other reasons, the house rent is reduced to a minimum. This tendency is also characteristic of the South Italian and Slav races.
Two rooms are usually sufficient to shelter the family, one serving as living room and bedroom, and the other as kitchen and dining room combined. This is frequently used as a bedroom also in the larger families. It is not unusual, however, for an entire family of adults to sleep in the same room. Cheap, unvarnished dressers and bedsteads, split-bottomed chairs, and a cooking stove are the principal articles of furniture in these houses. To a casual visitor the interior of the house not infrequently presents a comparatively neat appearance with the floor cleanly swept and the bed clothing neatly arranged, but the general impression is usually one of shiftlessness and improvidence, the fences, steps, and porch being in a dilapidated condition and the yard littered with rubbish. Modern sanitary devices are practically unknown.
With the advent of the Slav and South Italian immigrant with the boarding boss and his group of lodgers, a system of household economy previously unknown to this locality was introduced. As in other industrial communities, the boarding-boss system flourishes here to its greatest extent in the centers of employment most convenient to the large cities. The proportion of boarders or lodgers to each family decreases in number as the distance from the more populous cities increases, which is indicative of the tendency of the unmarried Slav and South Italian immigrants to crowd in the more important centers of population. In this locality the boarding-boss system is practiced principally by the Polish and South Italian races. In the company houses of one of the larger industrial corporations near Birmingham, South Italian families are found with as many as fifteen boarders or lodgers. Among the Poles the number often exceeds eight or ten. There is very little family life in such households. To accommodate as many lodgers as possible, beds are frequently placed in every room in the house, and the kitchen is often used as a dining room, bedroom, and bathroom. Only a few of the most essential articles of a cheap and inferior grade of furniture are used. The bed clothing is soiled and in disorder and the interior of the house presents an untidy and slovenly appearance.
Where the boarders or lodgers are less in number than the members of the immediate family, conditions are somewhat improved. In some of the smaller towns in this section are many Polish, Slovak, and South Italian steel workers and coal miners living in company houses and in houses rented from other sources than the employer. In these homes where none or only a limited number of boarders are kept, the furniture is more substantial and the interior of the home presents a much neater appearance. It is unusual, however, to find in these homes any but the most essential household necessities. There are no separate living rooms or parlors. The kitchen and dining room are usually combined and this room is frequently used as a bedroom also. Modern devices for sanitation, such as the bathroom and flush toilet are conspicuously absent. The boarding-boss system is not practiced by the English, Scotch, and Welsh races in the Birmingham district. Household conditions among these races compare favorably with conditions among the American workmen.
The Greek, Bulgarian, and Macedonian immigrants in this locality are largely unmarried men; of those who are married practically the entire number have left their wives in Europe. These races, as well