Effects of the Great Depression on Life of Americans
The Great Depression is a major event in American history impacted the lives of many Americans and others around the World. Following World War I, the Great Depression brought pain, confusion, and suffering to a countless amount of Americans lives. Any hope Americans had at the time was lost because of this tragic event. Unfortunately, all workers at this time no longer could feel comfortable with the economy around them. Essentially, the economy was ruined and created chaos across America. In 1929 the stock market crashed and painfully was followed up by the Dust Bowl. Our President at this time, Franklin D. Roosevelt, proposed a program named the New Deal, hoping to resolve this economic plunge.
Over time the cause of The Great Depression has created lots of major controversy. The New York Times states that after World War I on October 29, 1929 the stock market crashed making this the cause of The Depression. This day was known as Black Tuesday and was not the cause of The Great Depression but at the same time, did not positively impact the situation. Only about three percent of the population had been involved in the stock market, meaning it did not have as much of an effect on society that people believed it did. A Republican president at the time, Herbert Hoover, had strong speculations that the Depression was solely a result of the war. He believed that other countries who had borrowed money from the United States banks had put the U.S. in debt, however other economies around the world, such as Germany, France, and Britain were also experiencing economic hardships. Hoover ultimately blamed other sources besides his own for the downfall of the federal government. A major theory shown by John Green states that the bank failures in 1930 was the cause of The Depression and Black Tuesday made matters worse. Since the banks were relatively small and had to use their own resources to help the people, the loans that were needed allowed the banks to run out of resources. Since 1913, credit had been used by the United States and because of the lack of resources, credit froze. This led to deflation and a major decline in GDP (gross domestic product). Americans lost employment as business failed.
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During the 1920’s new consumer buying and a new form of credit led to economic uncertainty. Soldiers fighting in the war needed lots of food to survive. Farmers expanded their plantation to support these soldiers in the war resulting with these farmers unfortunately going into debt. The overproduction of products granted lower prices. As a result, farms foreclosed, and farmers were left without business. Then, farmers were faced with another devastation, The Dust Bowl. This occured in the mid 1930’s and mainly affected the Midwest. It not only was a drought, but it also proved to be a major downfall for the economy. There was a shift of weather patterns over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that seemed to be the cause of these major droughts and sand storms. From this farmers were forced to sell their land and all of the extra supplies were given to the poor; this is also known as the Surplus Relief Organization that was put into play by the federal government. The clouds of dust not only had an effect on the livestock but also gave children pneumonia. Families moved to new states to get a chance to start fresh. A handful of farmers lived in Hooverville’s which were essentially amongst the poor. Residents of these “shantytowns” lived in shacks. Many city officials kept the resources needed to survive and failed to give to the poor. Citizens blamed Hoover for the situation that they were in. The Dust Bowl only made the Great Depression worse. Hoover had to come up with a plan to keep the American economy on track and grant citizens the life they deserve.
Henry Hoover did very little in the process of uplifting The Depression. He believed that it wasn’t his duty to help the United States in this difficult time. Instead, in his eyes, local governments and private charities were responsible for what was happening to the economy. He also thought that “the government should monitor the economy and encourage counter cyclical spending to ease downturns” (Rodrick). Hoover ultimately ignored the government and congress and their suggestions on how to fix this problem. Steps towards socialism which include changing the value of money, fixed prices, and the controlling of businesses were ignored by Hoover. According to the dictionary, socialism is an economic theory in which production and trade should be regulated by the people. Instead, Hoover focused on volunteerism to help aid citizens. He claimed that the building of socialist institutions would potentially kill the American
population as we know it. Because of his non-socialist ideals, he lost the reelection to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Roosevelt promised citizens a gradual change in the economy that would better their lives. Although some believed Hoover’s ideas were practical, they weren’t strong enough to change the livelihood of society. In Roosevelt’s inauguration he states, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” (The Great Depression and the New Deal). This famous quote inspired and gave hope to people everywhere that the new president would be able to make a change. When Hoover was taken out of office, he left the government in a state of economic turmoil. Unlike Hoover, Roosevelt favored the idea of socialism and wanted to start turning away from laissez faire. Roosevelt proposed his plan known as “The New Deal”. The New Deal provided a multitude of new organizations that helped aid relief. The FDIC, also seen as The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, is a prime example. This organization was an important factor in “insuring deposits in banks up to a certain limit”. Roosevelt understood the implications that the banks had on the government, so he took initiative in aiding the source of the downfall. In 1933, an act passed that provided relief for farmers. The Agricultural Adjustment Act influenced farmers to plow under their crops and raised prices. With the AAA and the CCC (Commodity Credit Corporation) in play, farmers were able to slowly but surely get back into the business. The Commodity Credit Corporation extended the loans for crops that were not being sold at the time. In 1936 however, the AAA was shut down because the tax that was set on food processors was unconstitutional.
Although Roosevelt’s efforts helped tremendously, it still wasn’t enough to get society out of poverty. He came up with a second new deal that promoted work, the fight to end poverty, and to keep a safety net. An organization called the Works Progress Administration promoted work
other than welfare. The WPA worked to build the cities with new buildings, roads, airports, schools, etc. The National Youth Administration provided jobs for children and helped around 9 million people gain back the jobs they lost. In 1935, the social security act got put into play by Roosevelt. It granted workers who are 65 or older income after retirement. This was a part of the second new deal which was a more elaborate plan to the original new deal. Social security was funded by taxes and helped insurance for the aged, unemployed, and disabled. Although social security was seen to be helpful there were some problems regarding “double-digit employment and pervasive property”. Today, social security is seen as the societies top indicating factor of maintaining societies money flow. The second New Deal also consisted of the Indian Reorganization act, the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the United States Housing Authority. These brought relief to citizens immediately and was beneficial for a long-term recovery.
The Indian Reorganization Act, also known as the Indian New Deal, overturned the Dawes Act which essentially broke up the Indian Reservations in the hopes of moving Indians towards private land. This act allowed Indians to become one with their culture. The Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act was a result of the AAA which resulted unconstitutional. This new act gave protection to farmers and sharecroppers. It also gave the government permission to pay farmers that way production can be reduced. In 1937, The United States Housing Authority focused on giving homes to citizens in urban areas. As a result of this act, low cost homes were built, and Hooverville’s were cleared out. This allowed the government to be more involved in the helping of citizens. Although there were some downfalls. The government struggled with getting the right amount of funding just as they did with a lot of organizations during the New Deal.
The New Deal showed a success towards the people however, Hoover thought otherwise. He sent a letter to his friend seven months after he left office regarding his concerns with Roosevelts ideals. Hoover correctly predicted that the American government would change as society knew it. African Americans in the Great Depression faced economic hardships just as prevalent as whites, however they were still faced with discrimination. They were the first to be unemployed and their unemployment rate was doubled that of the whites. The New Deal on the other hand helped African Americans greatly. The Congress of industrial organizations was the first organization to help blacks in gaining employment.
NPR, a local podcast show interviewed some people who experienced The Great Depression firsthand. Wanda Bridgeforth, survivor of the Depression, stated that “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.” (Ellis) Bridgeforth, being a little girl at the time could not comprehend the implications of The Great Depression. Her mother had to work instead of her father which broke traditional family values. She was taken out of school and will never forget these hard times. African Americans especially still faced discrimination during economic turmoil. Another survivor, Henry Martinez, had 13 siblings and had to bathe in big cans together. Searching for warmth was nearly impossible. Martinez states that the conditions of the streets were terrifying. They were filled with trash and often caused people to have tuberculosis. The streets were a mess and President Hoover had few solutions to this major problem.
Many children going through this dilema may not have understood what was happening but they sure did realize the difficulty their lives and family went through at the time. Many children were unable to go to school. Others dropped out to work for their families. Most of these children would work in sweatshops with very poor pay. These children were not just working for themselves to have money, most were strictly working for their parents sake. This was their support to their family at the time. Surely, the Great Depression was not the easiest of times for children. Even if they wanted to go to school there was a chance their local school was shut down because of financial reasons. Imagine trying to have fun or entertain yourself at this age. The best thing you would have is your imagination.
These difficulties and struggles gives a better understanding of life during this time. Even people that were lawyers or doctors still dealt with major financial deficit. Nobody was as comfortable as they had hoped they would be if something like this were to occur. The Great Depression was the hardest economic downfall in American history. President Roosevelt excelled in restoring the lives of Americans and eventually led the U.S. to find its way to normality until the start of World War II. Hoover’s ideas were effective but not prominent enough to make a susceptible change. Roosevelt’s implements on society on the other hand were beneficial in a multitude of ways. He found jobs for people of all race, gender, etc. and rebuilt farms through different organizations and committees that were hired by the government. There was very little that could have been done to stop the Great Depression. Because the cause of this event is unknown to most, today, the stock market crashing would not leave everyone in a frenzy. The United States’ use of banks has become more beneficial and supplied resources by the government. This allows businesses to acquire the consumers they need to stay in business. Although the Depression was a tragedy and made the lives of Americans miserable, the government and economy wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t for these tragic events.
All in all, The Great Depression impacted society heavily and was an economic crisis. Even today our government and economy are impacted by this event in our American history. Families went through tougher times than we could image now. Feeling comfortable was the last thought on people’s minds because surviving this dramatic situation was far more important. Social security and welfare would be nonexistent if it weren’t for Roosevelt and his brave actions. The Great Depression will never be forgotten because of the crater it has made into our history.
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