Jacob Riis’ “How the Other Half Lives” brought to light the disparity between the exorbitantly wealthy of New York and the immigrants who live in the slums such as the Five Points. Urban populations grew exponentially in the United States when floods of immigrants entered through Ellis Island. During the turn of the 20th century corruption was embedded in every aspect of industry, economy, justice, and politics. This corruption lead to inequality and a tremendous gap in income and lifestyle between New York’s upper and middle class and the lower class composed mostly of new immigrants. There was little regard for living conditions of the lower class. Work standards were non-existent and the health and safety of laborers were ignored during the Gilded Age. Riis sought to show how this ignorance effected the poorest and most helpless of New Yorkers.
Riis first struggled to gain the public’s attention to the issue. However, flash photography changed everything as Riis was able to capture images of the slums so disturbing and unsettling that the country could no longer ignore them. Riis’ photos revealed the unimaginable conditions that the poor had to live in. In “How the Other Half Lives” Riis first called to attention the dramatic rise of tenements in New York. The number of those living in tenements rose to well over one million people in New York. He gave statistic after statistic showing the growing population of the lower class. As the average incomes for the upper and middle class climbed, the number of people thrown into the lower class with no hope of getting out also rose. It was Riis’ photos that finally got the attention of the nation.
The pictures that Riis took were startling. Tenements were exposed to be unsanitary and beyond uncomfortable. There was no light, no fresh air, no plumbing or running water. According to Riis over three-fourths of New York’s