Polish Immigrants by W. Scott Ingram, Scott Ingram, Robert Asher, Robert Asher

By W. Scott Ingram, Scott Ingram, Robert Asher, Robert Asher

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According to a 1907 study, more than 80 percent of Polish immigrants were unskilled laborers. Men were usually employed in the lowestpaying positions in coal mines, meatpacking factories, steel mills, and garment-manufacturing sweatshops. 50 for a 12- to 14-hour workday. The average yearly income for a Polish immigrant was slightly more than $300 per year (about $6,000 in today’s money, which is well below the poverty line). Although these wages were more than Poles could earn in their homeland, they were not enough to ensure a comfortable life in America.

There were 18 children, and a 19th child was adopted. Victor Kobylarz described how his mother kept food on the table: O Every other day she used 25 pounds of flour. She had a great, big wood stove so she could put 12 loaves of bread in the oven at one time. And this went on winter and summer, every other day. Then Saturday, she made what we called paczki (doughnuts). . Every Sunday morning, she made six or eight pies. She never measured anything. When you ask[ed] about a recipe, “How much? ” In Polish a handful is a gaszka.

We had to use a wash bucket for bathing and laundry. Gas was the source of heat and light in the three rooms. The only plumbing was one sink and a toilet. The five of us children shared one bedroom which was really one half of the kitchen divided off by curtains,” Dybek recalls. Like many immigrant groups, Polish Americans depended on aid programs of the federal government to help them through the difficult days of the depression. Because they were primarily industrial workers, many immigrants, including Polish Americans, were unemployed for much of the decade.

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