Agriculture and Rural life
For urban America, the 1920s was a decade of prosperity. The urban population continued its rapid growth, surpassing rural population for the first time in 1920. For rural America, however, the 1920s was a decade of stagnation, with only a slight population increase for the decade. Moreover, many farm-oriented industries, such as implement and fertilizer manufacturers and rural business depending on farm trade, failed. In constant dollars, farm income did not return to anything close to prewar levels until the second half of the 1920s. And then, farmers found the prices they paid for manufactured goods had risen well above what they had paid before the war.
American agriculture and rural life underwent a tremendous transformation in the 20th century. Early 20th century agriculture was labor intensive, and it took place on a large number of small, diversified farms in rural areas where more than half of the U.S. population lived. These farms employed close to half of the U.S. workforce, along with 22 million work animals, and produced an average of five different commodities. The agricultural sector of the 21st century, on the other hand, is concentrated on a small number of large, specialized farms in rural areas where less than a fourth of the U.S. population lives. These highly productive and mechanized farms employ a tiny share of U.S. workers and use 5 million tractors in place of the horses and mules of earlier days. As a result of this transformation, U.S. agriculture has become increasingly efficient and has contributed to the overall growth of the U.S. economy. Output from U.S. farms has grown dramatically, allowing consumers to spend an increasingly smaller portion of their income on food and freeing a large share of the population to enter nonfarm occupations that have supported economic growth and development. As a part of the transformation spurred by technological innovation and changing market conditions,...
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