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Life During the Great Depression: An Avalanche of Devastation

Life During the Great Depression
The world has seen more than just political strife and war. The Great Depression, which began in 1929, was an economic landslide that took a toll on life, beyond the commonly associated avenues of investment and revenue.
Historyplex Staff
Last Updated: Feb 17, 2018
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History of the World is commonly studied in phases, each unique in the turn of events and eventuality. However, commonly they are all characterized by time lines that are specify reign, ideology or the outcome of certain connected political events. The Great Depression of 1929-1930 is different. It was an era ushered into the economics of the world due to the consequences of a political upsurge - World War I. This phase in world history is marked as the largest economic depression ever witnessed in modern times.

The Great depression hit world economy, originating in the United States. In fact the day the US economy plunged due to a stock market crash beyond repair and scope for help is marked by historians as 'Black Tuesday'. On October 29, 1929, the US stock market witnessed a downturn that was not to heal in a hurry. Parallel world events include the attempts by the Central Powers Germany and Italy, to avenge the humiliation by the Treaty of Versailles and another mad race for stacking of armaments and establishing military supremacy. Diplomatic liaisons and commitments had a devastating effect on the economy of a number of countries. International trade suffered. It plunged along with personal income and prices of commodities. This in turn hit tax revenue and estimated profits. Heavy industries came to a stand still in fiscally weakened economic recession.

The construction industry literally shut down. Crop prices fell and unemployment was faced with few alternatives. The Great Depression affected different countries at different times. Worldwide, relief programs were set up. The ugliness of political upheaval forced desperate citizens, especially those of scorned Germany and Italy, to place their faith in demagogues like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. This marked the preparatory ground for World War II in 1939.

Impact of the Great Depression on American Life

The trigger factor was a total collapse in the stock market. Consumers cut back expenditures to deal with lost investments, but had to deal with drought that ravaged through the US in 1930. The financial set back was further exploited by the droughts and famines that challenged many other nations as well. Commodity prices hit rock bottom, but that was not as alarming as the scarcity witnessed.

The most glaring characteristic of life during the Great Depression was the widening gap between the "haves" and "have-nots." During a small span of 2 years from 1930 to 1932, unemployment rose from a shocking 5 million to an almost unbelievable 13 million. The Great Depression hit rural America the hardest hundreds of rural children started working in fields to support their families and were hired for sub-standard wages. In 1930, around 2.25 million boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 18 worked in factories, mines, canneries, and on farms.

During the Great Depression, between 1929 and 1941, an estimated 4 million Americans were roaming the land in desperate need for food and lodging. Of these, 250,000 were teenagers who rode the rails, lived in hobo jungles, in speeding boxcars and begged on the streets running away from the police and club-wielding railroad guards.

In 1929 the average family income in the United States stood at $2,300 just four years in the Depression and the average family income had tumbled 40% to a mere $1500. Grinding poverty naturally put a strain on many a family relations leading to numerous kids leaving home. Other factors, too, compelled the children to hit the road. In 1934, schools had a million more pupils 25,000 fewer teachers as compared to 1930. Five thousand schools had closed down altogether and almost one in every four American cities had their school terms shortened. By 1935, four million of ten million youths or 40% youths of high school age, were out of school.

If ever there was a section of society that suffered the most because of the Depression, they were the African-Americans and Mexican Americans. A year after the stock market crash, 70 percent of Charleston's black population and 75 percent of Memphis's was unemployed. In Macon County, Alabama, most black families lived in homes without windows or wooden floors and sewage disposal Their average income was less than a dollar a day and they survived on hominy grits, salt pork, bread, corn and molasses.

Mexican Americans were also severely hit during the Great Depression. As unemployment rose, organized labor unions seriously resented competition from Mexican workers. To prevent Mexicans from applying for relief, labor unions forced the federal, state and local authorities to forcibly "repatriated" more than 400,000 people of Mexican descent.

The Great Depression had turned the American dream into a horrific nightmare. What was once the land of opportunity and optimism had now become the land of desperation and despair. People began to question all the beliefs and maxims like democracy, capitalism, individualism, on which they had based their lives. It would take a World War and huge government intervention to bail out the nation from one of the greatest crisis ever witnessed by Americans.
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