Unemployment - History

History

There are relatively limited historical records on unemployment because it has not always been acknowledged or measured systematically. Industrialization involves economies of scale that often prevent individuals from having the capital to create their own jobs to be self-employed. An individual who cannot either join an enterprise or create a job is unemployed. As individual farmers, ranchers, spinners, doctors and merchants are organized into large enterprises, those who cannot join or compete become unemployed.

Recognition of unemployment occurred slowly as economies across the world industrialized and bureaucratized. Before this, traditional self sufficient native societies have no concept of unemployment. The recognition of the concept of "unemployment" is best exemplified through the well documented historical records in England. For example, in 16th century England no distinction was made between vagrants and the jobless; both were simply categorized as "sturdy beggars", to be punished and moved on.

The closing of the monasteries in the 1530s increased poverty, as the church had helped the poor. In addition, there was a significant rise in enclosure during the Tudor period. Also the population was rising. Those unable to find work had a stark choice: starve or break the law. In 1535, a bill was drawn up calling for the creation of a system of public works to deal with the problem of unemployment, to be funded by a tax on income and capital. A law passed a year later allowed vagabonds to be whipped and hanged.

In 1547, a bill was passed that subjected vagrants to some of the more extreme provisions of the criminal law, namely two years servitude and branding with a "V" as the penalty for the first offense and death for the second. During the reign of Henry VIII, as many as 72,000 people are estimated to have been executed. In the 1576 Act each town was required to provide work for the unemployed.

The Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601, one of the world's first government-sponsored welfare programs, made a clear distinction between those who were unable to work and those able-bodied people who refused employment. Under the Poor Law systems of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland a workhouse was a place where people who were unable to support themselves, could go to live and work.

Read more about this topic:  Unemployment

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