On both sides of my family tree I have come across several relatives who were listed as unemployed in the 1880 U.S. Census. Below is an excerpt from the Chippewa Township census showing that Thomas Francis Meechan lived next door to his brother Patrick, and they were both unemployed coal miners.
Year: 1880; Census Place: Chippewa, Wayne, Ohio; Roll: 1076; Family History Film: 1255076; Page: 106D; Enumeration District: 227; Image: 0743
In taking a look at the statistics for the decades before and after 1880, a couple of observations stand out:
- The Panic of 1873 occurred. The Panic was a financial crisis that prompted a depression in parts of Europe and North America. Banks failed, credit collapsed, and there was a money shortage which many believe to have been caused by the switch to the gold standard.
- The Long Depression lasted about 23 years.
- Tracking unemployment began around this time, shedding light on the economic effects of changes in record keeping and statistical analysis. In other words, we could now quantify, analyze and debate causal socioeconomic relationships.
- Economic analyses of unemployment vary somewhat, however, all seem to suggest a period of rising unemployment numbers from 1873 to around 1879.
- Employment statistics are a lagging indicator, suggesting that economic events have longer-lasting, trickle-down effects on individuals as businesses work to correct their respective courses.
The coal mining industry was clearly affected by the economic shifts and the next boom of coal mining would not occur until early-mid 1880s, subsequent to the 1880 U.S. Census. By 1889, Ohio was ranked third in the U.S. of the coal producing states and growth continued to grow thereafter.
In 1893, Thomas moved his family to Wadsworth, where they began farming. I’ve mentioned before that there were 16 children [total] and it would seem that would be necessary given the manual work involved in farming at that time. By 1897, Thomas was listed as a Freeholder (i.e., the land was owned free and clear) so the move seems to have been a good family decision.