“Pennsylvania History Presents” is an online feature of the Pennsylvania Historical Association’s (PHA) website. Begun in 2019, we offer for free public access one article from the current issue of its quarterly award-winning journal, Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies.
For the Fall 2022 (89.4) issue, Journal Editor Linda Ries has chosen for “Pennsylvania History Presents” an article by Michael B. McCoy (SUNY Orange), “The Standard of Living in Jacksonian-era Rural Pennsylvania: On the Struggles of the Working Poor.”
Abstract: Focusing on Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, this article considers the standard of living among 408 rural laboring men and their families, asking three questions: what were the costs of a typical household budget; did households earn enough to meet their needs; and did they achieve a minimal level of material comfort? The article answers these questions through two means: (1) it constructs a household budget and tests the degree to which households could afford the necessities; and (2) it measures the material conditions of working men and families by constructing an index of basic household goods against which to compare the personal possessions of the working poor. Together, these measures suggest that the region’s working poor struggled to achieve and maintain an often-austere standard of living. This examination sheds light on the conditions of the rural working class in the Age of Jackson.