This comes from The Public, October 13, 1906, and gives witness to, among other things, Leona Helmsley's much-quoted observation that "We don't pay taxes. The little people pay taxes."
"After the rent has been paid and food has been bought the very poor have but little left for anything else." This is the unpleasantly significant observation of S. E. Forman in his report in the Bulletin of Labor for last May on conditions of living among the poor. His report is based upon the household accounts of nineteen families of the District of Columbia. They were not pauper families. They were intelligent enough to keep household accounts correctly and honestly; and they were sober, industrious and moral people. Yet they were people to whom the loss of a day's wages would have caused embarrassment, and the loss of a week's a serious discomfort. That they were thrifty is evident from the figures, which cover a period of five weeks.
The item of food varied from $2.14 to $3.24 per week for the family of lowest expenditure, up to as much as $6.00 and even $8.60 for families of highest expenditure, the number of persons to a family varying from 4 to 10. For rent per month, the lowest for all the 19 families was $4.00 and the highest $14.00, the aggregate being more than $160.00 a month, or $1,920 a year. This annual payment is more than half the total assessed value of the houses in which those people live, and almost a third of the assessed value of the entire property, land and buildings both included. Of course assessed values are under-values. In these cases they are only about two-thirds of market value. But even on market values the rents were 20 per cent of the total value of the property — a pretty extortionate figure.
But that is not the worst. The actual market value of the houses is about $5,000. Now, an exceedingly liberal allowance for house taxes, repairs, etc., would be 15 per cent, or $750; and this would leave, out of the annual rentals of $1,920, the sum of $1,170 annually, merely for the occupancy of a little site upon the earth's surface, the value of which is annually maintained by annual taxation toward which these very people contribute a lion's share. And yet, when their meager food has been bought (a dollar a week or thereabouts for each person), and "after the rent is paid," they have little left. It takes all they earn to keep body and soul together. And the biggest item is the landlord's exaction; not for houses, but for the land on which the houses stand. Is the extortion only accidental, or is it an inevitable feature of our boasted civilization?