Case Study on How the Great Depression Mentality Affected a Generation.
The Great Depression was one of the worst hardships that the United states have ever been through. On October 29th, 1929, the Stock Market crashed causing the Great Depression. Throughout the 1930s, the Great Depression, caused massive unemployment, many banks to fail, and left a strong impression on the people who survived it. As the United States’ economy plummeted the government made a New Deal with the public to try to get them out of the slump. The New Deal was able to keep things going until World War 2 lifted the economy back up out of its slump. Until this happened, an entire generation experienced many hardships during the Great Depression and learned many lessons from them. These lessons, like saving money and being competitive would shape the way these people lived for the rest of their lives. Due to banks failing, people losing their jobs, and stocks dropping, people all over the United States of America were thrown into horrible poverty. Nearly 30% of the work force was out of their jobs, which slowed the economy even more. The people in the working class were not the only people losing their jobs, many people who went to good colleges and were economically stable before the Great Depression had their jobs taken away from them and were forced to find any way they could to provide for their families. Wanda Bridgeforth witnessed her father struggling for a job first-hand during the early 1930s. “In the Depression, the men could not get jobs, especially the black men. Here was my father with a degree in chemistry, and he could not get a job.”-1 Losing their jobs forced people to do everything they could to make money. When people did get jobs it was usually tough work like mining coal or cutting wood into lumber. These jobs would be very hard work and not pay very much. Apart from jobs being scarce, people also found themselves without food. There were many droughts in the United States all throughout the 1930s. This led to a scarcity in crops and made it much harder to get food. In a letter from Mrs. Ida Deer to Gov. Parnell (Governor of Arkansas 1930) Deer writes, “I want to have a confidential heart to heart talk with you about the condition here. There is a number of people here who follows public activities for a living good honest upright people the most of them are [.] they have had no work to mention for months [.] they are suffering. they have children who are crying for bread. I have given til I havn’t one thing more to give (I lost all the money I had.) my bro. [brother] who is practically an invalid has opened the doors of his office and is feeding and housing hungry men” -4 Without money, jobs and food, people were forced to go into uncomfortable living conditions. Sometimes, people were even forced to fight over trash scraps to get food to feed their families. Because of droughts many farmers were also forced to move into the city to try to make money. The farmers and other city folk who didn’t have enough money to own a home had to move into cramped apartments with large amounts of other people, usually extended family. My grandfather remembers living in a packed apartment with his parents, brother and grandparents. Many cases were much worse than how my grandfather lived; in some cases people had larger extended families. Mrs. Wanda Bridgeforth said in her interview, "One house we lived in — there were 19 of us in a six-room house,” -1 Because people would try to fit in such a small space, these apartments would become very unsanitary and many inhabitants would get sick from being inside them. Many people like Mrs. Wanda Bridgeforth and my grandfathers suffered through horrible conditions and were in need of relief from them. Many people looked towards the government to fix the problems of the great depression. The government did what it could by making many programs to try to help the struggling public of the United States. In November of 1932, right in the middle of the great depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was elected president. His campaign promised “A New Deal”. The New Deal became a chain of relief and recovery programs that aimed at getting the nation out of the Great Depression. My grandfather explained to me in our interview that all of these programs were made to get people money and back on their feet with jobs. “All of this was formed as an occupational ability to give people jobs, to help people have an income and to work their way out of the depression” -2 Roosevelt wasted no time after he was inaugurated on March 4th by announcing a four day special session of congress to begin on March 9th. The first thing that congress did was pass the Emergency Banking Act, giving the president the power to control the banks if he declares a state of emergency. Throughout the next week tons of banks reopened. This raised the spirits of Americans and they immediately began to redeposit their money in banks. By march 15th the Dow Jones had also been raised 8.26 points, which was a little over fifteen percent. The Emergency Banking Act ended the lack of banks open during the great depression and was one of the first big steps into getting out of the great depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps (or CCC) was known as the most popular out of the New Deal programs. It provided many manual labor jobs for men between the ages of 18-25. Between 1933 when it was created and 1941 nearly 2 million people worked on Civilian Conservation Corps programs. After the Emergency Banking Act was enacted congress went on and made many other programs to try to get people on their feet throughout 1933. The Reforestation Relief Act created jobs for nearly 250,000 men by using the CCC to plant forests and make parks all over the United States. By the end of the program, men in the CCC planted nearly 3 billion trees and created nearly 800 parks. The Agricultural Adjustment Act gave loans to farmers and set prices for the farmers’ products to keep the prices from dropping so that the farmers would stop losing money. The Homeowners Refinancing Act was an act made by FDR and it helped people who were close to losing their houses. It gave mortgage assistance to those who needed it by giving them money or refinancing mortgages. The National Industrial Recovery Act made the PWA (Public Works Administration) and the NRA (National Recovery Administration). The PWA gave people jobs by enlisting their help to create roads and public buildings. The NRA regulated prices and codes of fair competition, which made things like making minimum wages for workers and maximum work hours. It also helped the businesses by making minimum prices at which products had to be sold. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected again in 1936 however by this time the economy had been jump-started and there wasn’t much more that congress could do. The debate of whether the “New Deal” worked or not is still going on today. FDR’s New Deal had three aspects to it, or the three R’s, Relief Recovery and Reform. The new deal programs provided food, shelter and jobs for many people during the great depression. Without these programs many people would have not had enough relief to survive during the time. The relief aspect of the New Deal seemed to work very well. The next aspect, Reform, also worked well by understanding why the great depression happened and making sure that it wouldn’t happen again. A good example of one of these programs is the FDIC, Federal Deposit Insurance Foundation. The FDIC insures peoples money if the banks were to fail again. The last aspect, Recover, is the one that is debated on whether it worked or not. The New Deal strengthened the country very much economically, by stimulating it and allowing it to prosper again, however unemployment was only boosted for a bit until it fell again. In 1929 2.6 million people were unemployed. By 1933 15 million were unemployed. In 1938 10.5 million people were still unemployed. Chris Trueman writes, “Those who criticize the New Deal claim that it never actually got rid of unemployment in America and that Roosevelt's New Deal only had short term impact which lulled the unemployed into thinking that all their troubles were at an end.” -6 Although the New Deal helped people during the Great Depression, it was not successful in getting people out of it. It wasn’t until World War 2 that we were able to stimulate the economy enough to be out of an economic depression. This is why many argue that the Great Depression was the reason that we were able to completely get out of the great depression. By the late 1930s, America was stimulating its economy by preparing for war, and the Great Depression was a thing of the past. While the great depression was nearly over by the late 1930s the effects of it were still very real. They left an imprint on people who were alive during that time and these people carried it with them for the rest of their lives. In the interview with my grandfather, he explained how the great depression stayed with people who were alive during the time. “There were lots of different reasons that it stayed with you whether it was in school where you studied it, or you read it in the paper and began understand a little bit more as you got older about what the depression really meant and the hardships that people suffered through. I can remember my parents talking about it (…) [Because of the great depression] I’ve always been frightened of not having enough money” -2 The fear of not having enough money has driven my grandfather throughout his whole life to provide for his family. He graduated high school, went to college and even joined the army for a while. Through all of these journeys he has kept the lessons his family and the depression taught him and they have benefitted him greatly. By the 50s my grandfather was happily married to my grandmother and he had begun to make much more money than he was used to. He explained to me that this was the happiest he had ever been because he had never had money to spare before. This is a passage of my grandfather explaining how he felt about making money. “After a year or two in the 50s together [my grandmother and my grandfather] we were making 1000$ a month between us and I remember saying ‘Lord I don’t want any more. You let me earn 12,000$ a year for the rest of my life, I’ll be the happiest man’ because 12,000$ was a lot of money in 1956 I mean you could buy a car for 1200$” -2 In the case of my grandfather, the fear of not having money caused him to work harder than anyone else in his business. My grandfather has worked for E.F. Hutton for nearly 57 years and was always the first one to get to work and the last one to leave. In the great depression, people were forced to work as hard as they could and do everything in their power to get a competitive edge over anyone else just to survive. Many people who lived in the great depression have carried this lesson throughout their lives. Another lesson learned from the great depression is to be conservative with your money. My grandfather learned to be conservative from the great depression and it has influenced him greatly in his work. When asked if he thought that being conservative was good he answered: “Well I think its both because its kept me grounded in the sense that I didn’t go off on wild tangents and bet the farm and then have nothing if I lost, and I’ve always possibly bet a little less than a more aggressive person might have so I made a little bit less but I’ve lost a little less as well when I was wrong, so who’s to say. I’m not sorry of anything and I’m appreciative of the fact that I had that type of background.” -2 In the case of my grandmother, her father always told her “Every two pennies you earn, save one.” Everyone that has lived through the great depression has been influenced by it, whether it’s the lessons that they learned from it or how it pushed them to survive. The Great Depression was one of the biggest events in the history of America and it has taught us a lot about how to save our money and how far people will go to keep their families alive. The differences between how people lived then and today and what they went through influenced many including myself. It takes something as immense as the Great Depression to show you how much a nation will go through to survive and what it can push people to do. Although we do not live in a great depression today, many of the lessons that our grandparents learned from it are vital to the society that we live in.
-1 Bridgeforth, Wanda. Interview by Neenah Ellis. Survivors of the Great Depression Tell Their Stories. National Public Radio, 2008. Web. Nov. 2008. -3 Library of Congress. "The New Deal." - Primary Source Set. Library of Congress, 15 Jan. 2013. Web. 15 Jan. 2013. -4 West, George, and Jeff Lewellen. "“Hard Times Come Again No More”*: Letters from Arkansas Families in the Great Depression." “Hard Times Come Again No More”*: Letters from Arkansas Families in the Great Depression. Arkansas School for Math and Science, 2007. Web. 9 Dec. 2012. .
-5 "About the Great Depression." About the Great Depression. University of Illinoise, n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2013. -6 "Was the New Deal a Success." Was the New Deal a Success. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2013.