The Great Depression: American Economic Disaster
The Great Depression lasted a decade from 1929 and proved to be the worst economic disaster in American history. It is widely accepted to have originated when New York’s Wall Street stock market went into a panic due to an extreme rise in investors, which when prices dropped and investors liquidating millions of shares leading to a downturn of 14 billion dollars. (DeGrace, 2011) After Wall Street crashed many consumer spendings and investments dropped due to a distrust for big businesses and banks after the Roosevelt administration called for banking holidays where banks closed until deemed fit for trading by government inspectors. (Duignan, n.c.) causing companies to lay off workers. By 1933, GPD had declined by 30%, comparatively, The GFC’s decline of 2007 was 4.3% and nearly half the banks had failed to pass inspection. (Duignan, n.c.)
A significant factor to why the Great Depression lasted almost a decade was because the United States government had not placed any form of unemployment insurance or social security, a rarity of an industrially developed nation of that time. It wasn’t till 1935 that Congress passed the Social Security Act at which point the poverty rate had exceeded 50%. This move effectively ending the ideology of The American Dream.
Though not considered the start of the Great Depression due to its gradual and eventless nature making it hard to pinpoint was the migration of many black Americans from in the rural South to the Mid-West, a period known as the Dust Bowl Migration. Woody Guthrie, a highly influential musician, was one of the many affected by the Dust Bowl, his commentary serves as a window to the experiences of class inequality of the time. His best-known work “This Land is Your Land” was written during his time living in New York City. (PBS, n.c.)
Even with the economy in decline and the country’s debt in the trillions, many social changes occurred for the betterment of minorities and the arts. Cinema became one of America’s favourite pastimes, with 40% of Americans seeing at least one movie per week. (ushistory.org n.c.) Radio also rose in popularity with President Roosevelt using radio to inform the public about social and government-related issues in a casual manner with his ‘fireside chats”. Along with involving the government in helping improve the economy, Roosevelt employed what is known as the “Black Cabinet,” a group of black men and women who worked on nearly every New Deal agency, ensuring that they had a black advisor. With this implemented black workers in the government sector tripled. (history.com, n.c.)
It was with a great tragedy that took the United States out of the depression, The Pearl Harbor Bombing in 1941 led to America entering World War II, pushing the nation’s factories into overdrive, seeing an expanse of soldiers enlisting and factory workers reducing the unemployment rate to a rate similar to before the Depression.