economic collapse of the 1930s was staggering in its dimensions.
Unemployment jumped from less than 3 million in 1929 to
4 million in 1930, 8 million in 1931, and 12 1/2 million
in 1932. In that year, a quarter of the nation's families
did not have a single employed wage earner. Even those fortunate
enough to have jobs suffered drastic pay cuts and reductions
in hours. Only one company in ten failed to cut pay, and
in 1932, three-quarters of all workers were on part-time
schedules, averaging just 60 percent of the normal work
economic collapse was terrifying in its scope and impact.
By 1933 average family income had tumbled 40 percent, from
$2,300 in 1929 to just $1,500 four years later.
the Pennsylvania coal fields, three or four families crowded together
in one-room shacks and lived on wild weeds. In Arkansas, families
were found inhabiting caves. In Oakland, California, whole families
lived in sewer pipes.
up as many families were evicted from their homes for nonpayment
of rent. The Southern Pacific Railroad boasted that it threw 683,000
vagrants off its trains in 1931. Free public flophouses and missions
in Los Angeles provided beds for 200,000 of the uprooted.
To save money,
families neglected medical and dental care. Many families sought
to cope by planting gardens, canning food, buying used bread,
and using cardboard and cotton for shoe soles. Despite a steep
decline in food prices, many families did without milk or meat.
In New York City, milk consumption declined a million gallons
Herbert Hoover declared, "Nobody is actually starving. The
hoboes are better fed than they have ever been." But in New
York City in 1931, there were 20 known cases of starvation; in
1934, there were 110 deaths caused by hunger. There were so many
accounts of people starving in New York that the West African
nation of Cameroon sent $3.77 in relief.
had a powerful impact on family life. It forced couples to delay
marriage and drove the birthrate below the replacement level for
the first time in American history. The divorce rate fell, for
the simple reason that many couples could not afford to maintain
separate households or pay legal fees. But rates of desertion
soared. By 1940, 1.5 million married women were living apart from
their husbands. More than 200,000 vagrant children wandered the
country as a result of the breakup of their families.
was it like to grow up during the Great Depression of the 1930s?
did the Depression alter family roles?
Depression hardship strengthen or weaken family bonds?