The Great Depression
From 1929 to 1941, the United States suffered through its greatest economic crisis in its history. Millions of people lost their jobs and went hungry. At this time, it was unclear whether the United States would ever recover. From the Great Depression origin of the 1929 stock market crash to its conclusion at the start of World War II, our country and its people will never be the same. The effects of the Great Depression can still be felt today. The stock market crash of 1929 marked the start of the Great Depression. In the summer of 1929, the economy entered into an ordinary recession (Great Depression (1930's) News) As consumer spending decreased and unsold goods were increasing, the production of goods was slowing (Great Depression (1930’s) News) Simultaneously, the stock market prices continued to drop and by the fall of that year it had reached levels that could not be justified by future earnings. (American Experience: TV's Most-watched History Series) Millions of shares ended up as worthless which caused investors to lose their money. (The Great Depression; The History Channel) As unemployment rose and wages fell, the government handled the depression poorly. Instead of spending more money to stimulate the economy and help it grow, the government had major cutbacks which only made the Depression worst. By, 1930 4 million Americans were unemployed and searching for jobs; by 1931 the number grew to 6 million. (Great Depression (1930's) News) At the time there was no social safety net to protect people from the severe effects of the economy. (The Great Depression; the History Channel) Also, if people had savings in the bank and the bank was forced to close, all the money in the bank that a person had deposited would be gone. My interviewee, Lillian Sugate was only ten years old when the Great Depression occurred. Living in rural Indiana in a town of only 700 people the depression hit her and her family hard. She said, “Even though the depression is long over for the rest of my life, I will always keep spare money hidden away just in case the banks fail again, just as I saw my mama did.” (Lillian Sugate) This was another major reason why people were left not only unemployed but without money. (American Experience: TV's Most-watched History Series) By 1932, the unemployment rate flew past 20% or 13-15 million. Thousands of businesses and banks failed. (American Experience: TV's Most-watched History Series) Millions of people were left homeless in the streets, searching in dumps and garbage cans for food. (Great Depression (1930's) News) Many families moved from town to town in search of job offers that were often non-existent. (The Great Depression; The History Channel) Also as part of this paper, I interviewed Dorothy and Joe Carothers. Dorothy grew up in Oklahoma and was in first grade in 1933. Dorothy’s family was more fortunate than most families during the depression. Her dad had a job that didn’t make a lot of money, but put food on the table. According to Dorothy, “My father didn’t make any investments in stocks, so we didn’t lose any shares.” (Dorothy Carothers) Joe grew up in Ohio with his family consisted of five kids, three girls and two boys, all living in two bedroom house. Joe’s father had a job for the majority of the depression. When he did, he generally worked ten hours a day and six days a week. He only made 40 cents an hour, ($24 a week.) As Joe said, “Once when my teacher asked me to bring a gift to school for a present exchange, I searched the house for something of value to offer, but all I could find was a safety pin. Other kids brought candy and I brought a safety pin.” (Joe Carothers) This just goes to show you how poor Joe’s family was. When special occasions such as Christmas past, there were no luxary of toys and multiple gifts. Instead each child received one practical gift such as clothing or school supplies. Both families had to wear hand me downs from siblings. But unlike today, there was no embarrassment. Actually it was quite common for many families during the depression. When Joe got older he worked a grocery store and Dorothy started babysitting so that they can pay for their own expenses and help out their families. According to Joe, “One night I was working a shift alone and a young poor couple came in with their new born baby. The father looked at me and said, ‘Please, I need milk for my child. All I have to offer are these.’ His hands held an egg, a postage, and a penny. I accepted his offer and gave him an extra milk container.” (Joe Carothers) This shows the desperation many parents felt just to feed their children. Some families with only one or two children were better off than bigger families such as Joe’s. According to Dorothy, “I don’t think anyone’s really poor if you have food on the table, a warm house, and food on your table. And luckily we had them all. But, I knew of some children at school who were dirt poor and their parents unemployed.” (Dorothy Carothers) I think this is a good way of explaining the difficulties the depression brought on many families.
The presidential campaign of 1932 brought new hope to suffering Americans. Franklin Delano Roosevelt won in a landslide and he took office in March 4, 1933. (The Great Depression; The History Channel) Roosevelt faced not only the unemployment which had reached 24.9% but also the banking crisis. (Great Depression (1930's) News) Roosevelt changed economic policies of the government and started spending a lot of money to grow the economy. (Great Depression (1930's) News) Roosevelt also created programs such as the Works Progress Administration otherwise known as W.P.A. which created jobs such as building and repairing bridges, roads, playgrounds, parks and public buildings. (The Great Depression; The History Channel) This employed nearly 8.5 million people. With the rise in employment, other businesses began to strive as well. (The Great Depression; The History Channel) The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, (F.D.I.C.) was also created which guarantees that up to a certain amount of money that is deposited in the bank will still be your money even if the bank fails. (American Experience: TV's Most-watched History Series) In 1941, World War II was initiated by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. (Great Depression (1930's) News) This stimulated incredible economic growth for the country. (The Great Depression; the History Channel) The government needed weapons, ships, tanks, and airplanes which created millions of jobs, not to mention the government also needed men and women to enroll and serve in the army. World War II sent America’s factories into full production and absorbed all available workers.
The Great Depression was the most challenging time in our country’s history. Its lesson can be felt 80 years later in 2013. We know our deposits are safe in our banks and we have social security for the elderly. We have unemployment insurance for the people who lose their jobs. And when the Great Recession hit in 2008 our government learned from our mistakes from the Great Depression and spent money to try to expand the economy. Our Government was more prepared.
"American Experience: TV's Most-watched History Series." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 22 May 2013. Carothers, Joe. Personal interview. 22 May 2013.
Carothers, Dorothy. Personal interview. 22 May 2013
"Recovery.gov - Track the Money." The Recovery Act. Recovery, n.d. Web. 22 May 2013. Sugate Lillian. Personal interview. 19 May 2013.
Taylor, Nick. "The Great Depression." Great Depression (1930's) News. New York Times, n.d. Web. 22 May 2013. “The Great Depression.” 2013. The History Channel website. May 22 2013, 11:33