Themes of the Survey

Overwork & Underpay
The Pittsburgh Survey found that the most pressing problems facing the majority of workers at the time to be overwork and low wages. These themes were found in each of the sections that we examined in detail. Workers in the mills often worked 12-hour days 7 days a week for wages too low to support a family. Teachers in the schools were overworked in teaching very large classes for little pay. Older students were forced to leave school to earn money to help support their families. Women were sometimes forced into prostitution because they could not make a living wage elsewhere.

The Pittsburgh Survey criticized the industrialists, such as Andrew Carnegie, who gave generously for libraries and museums, but who also overworked and underpaid their workers. It stated, “not by gifts of libraries, galleries, technical schools and parks but by the cessation of toil one day in seven and sixteen hours in the twenty-four [and] by the increase in wages… should the surplus come back to the people in the community in which it was created.” (Devine, 4)

Fragmented and Corrupt Institutions
The Pittsburgh Survey served to highlight and to criticize some of the city’s fragmented and corrupt institutions. For example, in the area of education, the ward school districts were inequitable, inefficient and often corrupt. The police department also lacked centralized authority to prevent corruption and coordinate crime fighting efforts. These discussions brought some light to issues of corruption, and exposed many other social issues of the time.

The Pittsburgh Survey saw that the city was struggling to accommodate a large number of immigrants. Despite the long hours and low wages, these immigrants found better opportunities in Pittsburgh than they had had in southern and eastern Europe. The challenge for schools was to try to accommodate children from many cultural backgrounds who spoke a variety of languages. Immigrants made up a huge proportion of the industrial labor force. Though employers depended on immigrant labor, immigrants were not always well-received. Slavs, many of whom worked in steel mills and coal mines, were frequently criticized for a lack of intelligence, and consequently kept in unskilled or semi-skilled positions. More generally, union members complained that immigrants’ unfamiliarity with the union system and industrial conditions made progress for unions slow.