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Retail Clerks in Changing Economic Times (c. 1890)

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The problems are manifold: the opening of the occupation to elements who, according to talent, education, and property, are content with life-long dependency; the spread of general elementary schooling; the division of commercial labor; the beginnings of competition from machines; female shop clerks and office workers; the “bred” apprentices; the unskilled assistant clerks; and the unskilled grocery clerks – all of these factors diminish the regular retail clerk’s opportunities for income, they overfill the job market, they deteriorate the working conditions that he has to put up with; and to top it all, the poorly educated retail clerk undercuts the better one.

Source: Karl Oldenberg, "Die heutige Lage der Commis nach neuerer Literatur" [“The Present Situation of the Commis According to Recent Literature”], in Schmollers Jahrbuch für Gesetzgebung, Verwaltung und Volkswirtschaft im Deutschen Reich [Schmoller's Yearbook for Legislation, Administration, and Political Economy in the German Empire], vol. 16 (1892), pp. 768-90.

Original German text reprinted in Gerhard A. Ritter and Jürgen Kocka, eds., Deutsche Sozialgeschichte 1870-1914. Dokumente und Skizzen [German Social History 1870-1914. Documents and Sketches], 3rd ed. Munich: C.H. Beck, 1982, pp. 311-14.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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