Looking for Work: A History of Unemployment
On this special Labor Day episode, the History Guys ask what joblessness has meant for previous generations of Americans. How has the changing nature of employment shaped the experience of not having a job? Have the moral connotations of work evolved?
Over the course of the hour, we hear from historian Alexander Keyssar, take calls from BackStory listeners, and hear an imagined testimonial from an itinerant worker in the “New Northwest” at the turn of the 20th century.
- Alexander Keyssar – historian, author of Out of Work: The first century of unemployment in Massachusetts
- Measuring Unemployment — Historian Alexander Keyssar explains how the unemployed were counted and uncounted–acknowledged and unacknowledged–in the 19th and 20th centuries.
- The Great Migration – William Brown moved north from Jacksonville, FL, during the Great Migration. He describes what happened when he asked a Philadelphia real estate agent for a job. Discussion of challenges for African Americans looking for work in the early 20th century.
Audio Slide Show
Looking for Work in the New Northwest Imagine it’s Seattle, 1910, and you’re a new arrival from back East. You find your way down to Skid Row, where you hear you might be able to get work for the day on a lumber crew. No such luck–but what you do find is a grizzled old man who buys you a drink and launches into the story of how he wound up out of work in the New Northwest.
- Alex Keyssar’s book, Out of Work: The First Century of Unemployment in Massachusetts, and a review
- Entire audio from oral history “Goin’ North: Tales of the Great Migration”
- Transcript of FDR’s fireside chat “On the Unemployment Census”
Want to dig deeper into the history of unemployment? Check out this list of resources compiled by the History Guys to learn more.
Watch a rare, live performance of “Looking for Work” at UVa’s Miller Center of Public Affairs.