1931 TO 1940, THE GREAT DEPRESSION
You’ll find no job photographs on the website for this decade for the simple reason that the Great Depression that lasted from 1929 to 1939 brought an unemployment rate that ranged from 30% to 80% across the country. This section is devoted to both the suffering of the American people and the great social gains that came out of it..
The depression caused terrible hardship because there was no safety net as we know it today. The was no Social Security, no unemployment benefits, no Medicare or Medicaid and all welfare programs were soon exhausted.
In the Chicago Observer the headline read “American citizens fighting for scraps of food like animals.” The article said “We saw a crowd of some 50 men fighting over a barrel of garbage which had been set outside the backdoor of a restaurant.”
For 40 million Americans, poverty became a way of life. Annual wages averaged for construction workers in 1932-34 was $907.00. For millions, soup kitchens provided the only food they would see all day.
“No one has yet starved” was a favorite phase of the comfortable, including President Hoover, and in October, 1930, Republican Senatorial candidate Dwight Morrow opined, “There is something about too much prosperity that ruins the fiber of people.”
It was, Edmund Wilson said upon reading Morrow’s fatuous statement, “a reassuring thought….“that the emaciated men In the bread lines, the men and women beggars in the streets, and the children dependent on them, are all having their fibre hardened.”
Newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt said to Commerce Secretary Dan Roper “Let‘s concentrate upon one thing. Save the people and the nation and, if we have change our minds twice a day to accomplish that end, we should do it.”.
Within five days after his inauguration, he called an emergency session of Congress to enact the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which put 3 million young men to work. He rammed through Social Security and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) which eventually provided 8 million jobs. They approved vast construction projects such as the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Hoover Dam. They passed the Wagner Act which gave full legal status to labor unions. The Davis-Bacon Act establishing minimum wage and the 8 hour day was signed into law by President Herbert Hoover.