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Family Tree Friday: The 1940 Census–Were You at Work (Part 2)

by on December 16, 2011


This week’s post comes once again from guest blogger Diane Petro, who is an Archives Technician in the Archives I Research Support Branch (RD-DC), Research Services, Archival Operations – Washington, DC.  Diane helps staff the research rooms at the National Archives Building and has also been working on reference activities relating to the upcoming 1940 Census release.

Photo caption: Oakland, California. Lockheed Testing Program.  Waiting for routine interview before being tested for employment at Lockheed Aircraft factory, April 23, 1940.  (ARC ID 532194).

On October 7, 2011, my previous blog  Were You at Work (Part 1) went over columns 21-24 in the 1940 population census. Today, let’s look at columns 25-27.

Columns 25-27 cover those not in the work force, hours worked, and unemployment.

Column 25: In this column, an “H”, “S”, “U”, or “Ot” is used to categorize those not in the work force.  (H) indicated a person primarily occupied during the week of March 24-30, 1940, in their own home doing housework; (S), a person enrolled in school; (U), a person unable to work because of permanent disability, chronic illness, or old age; and (Ot) was used for all others not at work, not seeking work, and without a job.  This last category could have included: (a) persons who only worked during a short season of the year such as a professional football player or seasonal farm worker; (b) retired persons still able to work; (c) persons who chose not to work; and (d) persons able to work who for any other reason were not working, not seeking work, and without a job.

4.1 percent or 1,578,930 of the population fell into the “Ot” category.

Column 26:  In the 1940 census, hours worked pertain to the number of hours worked during March 24-30, 1940, by persons who were at work (except on public emergency work) during that week.  This question determined the length of the usual work week in each occupation, and the proportion of workers whose hours were above or below the average number.   Standard for full-time work in many industries was 40 to 48 hour weeks.  Data shows that many people worked less, which indicates that part time employment was prevalent.   If a person worked for themselves, (a doctor, lawyer, farmer, etc), the number of hours devoted in any way to their profession or business is entered here.

Column 27:   “Duration of unemployment” represents the number of weeks (up to March 30, 1940) that a person had been seeking work or working on public emergency projects.  For an experienced worker, this was the length of time since the last full time job of one month or more.   If a person had never worked, or had been out of the labor force for a considerable time, enumerators were instructed to report the number of weeks since the person last began to seek work.  For example: Grandpa Tiffany last worked on July 1, 1938, and sought work until he entered school on September 1, 1939.   On February 1, 1940, he left school and once more began to seek work.  The proper entry for duration of unemployment in this case is 8, the number of weeks from February 1 to March 30, 1940.

Note: Emergency workers were considered unemployed for census purposes, and the duration of emergency work is included in this column.

The 1940 census will be FREE and available digitally on April 2, 2012.  For FAQ’s, forms, and tips on how to search the schedules, visit our 1940 census webpage.


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