Great Depression Essay
Depression is a deep, extended slump in total business activity. Buying and selling drop during a depression. This causes a decline in production, prices, income and employment. Money becomes scarce. Many businesses fail, and many workers lose their jobs. A depression can hit an industry, a region, a nation of the world (Coy 32; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). A depression might develop if sales drop in a number of stores. Because of the fall in sales, the stores order less merchandise from manufacturers, in turn, lower production, cut orders from suppliers, and invests less money in new equipment and factories.
As sales drop, prices tend to fail, further reducing business income. Employers lay off workers as business income falls. Bankruptcies may follow (Coy 32; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). The depression cycle occurs again and again as unemployment rises. Unemployed workers have less money to spend, leading to further drops in sales, production, income, and employment. The slump feeds on itself, becoming progressively worse until business activity picks up (Coy 32; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP).
Severe depressions occurred in the United States in 1837, 1873, 1893, 1907 and 1929. Financial panics at the start of these depressions sharply reduced the amount of money available for spending. Depressions have also occurred after wars, when wartime spending suddenly stops. The worst depression in history was the Great Depression, which struck the world in 1929 and continued through the 1930s (Coy 32; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). Great Depression was a worldwide business slump of the 1930s.
It ranked as the worst and longest period of high unemployment and low business activity in modern times. The Great Depression began in October 1929, when stock values in the United States dropped rapidly. Thousands of stockholders lost large sums of money – or were even wiped out. Banks, factories, and stores closed and left millions of Americans jobless and penniless. Many people had to depend on the government or charity for bond (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Bernanke 57; Sides 35; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). President Herbert Hoover held office when the Great Depression began.
The voters elected Franklin D. Roosevelt President 1932. Roosevelt’s reforms gave the government more power and helped ease the depression (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89). The Great Depression affected almost every nation. It caused a sharp decrease in world trade because each country tried to help its own industries by raising tariffs on imports. The depression caused some nations to change their leader and their type of government. The poor economic condition led to the rise of the German dictator Adolf Hitler and to the Japanese invasion of China.
The German people supported Hitler because his plans to make Germany a world leader gave them hope for improved conditions. The Japanese developed industries and mines in Manchuria, a region of China, and claimed this economic growth would relieve the depression in Japan. The militarism of Germany and Japan helped bring on World War II (1939 – 1945) (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Bernanke 57; Sides 35; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). Depressions hurt great numbers of people, especially workers who lose their jobs.
Bank failures wipe out the savings of depositors if such funds are not insured. Many people cannot meet rent or mortgage payments and lose their homes (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Bernanke 57; Sides 35; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). During a depression, some people must live on charity to survive. They may feel angry and humiliated because they cannot support themselves (Coy 32; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP) Depressions cause marriage and birth rates to decline. Young people who cannot find jobs delay marriage.
Couple uncertain about the future may have fewer children than they would like (Coy 32; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). Long periods of unemployment cause people to lose faith in them selves and in the future. After a depression, many people value security above all else (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Bernanke 57; Sides 35; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). Some people profit from a depression. For example, those who have enough money can buy businesses, stocks, and other property at low prices.
Salaried workers may live better as prices drop and their income buys more and more (Coy 32; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). Society suffers as a depression spreads mass unemployment, poverty and despair. Depressions also change certain beliefs. These changes can affect society. The Great Depression caused many people to distrust business and led the government to regulate business and economic affairs. This increased regulation led to the widespread belief that the government should maintain high employment and guarantee citizens a good life.
After the Great Depression, many people no longer trusted employers to protect workers. As a result, labor unions gained more members and greater public acceptance than ever before (Coy 32; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). A depression makes some people lose faith in their system of government. They may come to believe any leader who promises a change. Leaders who took power during a depression include Adolf Hitler, who ruled Germany as dictator from 1933 to 1945, and Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1943 (Coy 32; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP).
Relations between nations suffer during a depression. Each country tries to protect its own interests without concern for other nations (Coy 32; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). The Great Depression ended after nations increased their production of war materials at the start of World War II. This increased level of production provided jobs and put large sums of money back into circulation (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Bernanke 57; Sides 35; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). The depression had lasting effects on the United States government and on many Americans.
For example, the government took more responsibility than ever before for strengthening the economy. In addition, many Americans who lived during the depression stressed the importance in later years of acquiring such material comforts as appliances and cars (Coy 32; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). Many causes contributed to making the Great Depression as severe as it was. During the 1920s, many bank failures, together with low incomes among farmers and factory workers, helped set the stage for the depression. Uneven distribution of income among workers also contributed to the slump.
Most economists agree that the stock market crash of 1929 started the depression (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Bernanke 57; Sides 35; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). The 1920s were a prosperous period for business, but most farmers did not prosper. Prices of farm products fell about 40% in 1920 and 1921, and they remained low through the 1920s. Some farmers lost so much money that they could not pay the mortgage of their farm. These farmers then had to either rent their land or move (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP).
Bank failures increased during the 1920s. Most of them occurred in agricultural areas because farmers experienced such poor conditions. About 550 banks went out of business from July 1, 1928 to June 30, 1929, the period of greatest prosperity in the 1920s (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). In addition to the farmers, workers in the coal, railroad and textile industries failed to share in the prosperity of the 1920s. Industrial production increased about 50%, but the wages of industrial workers rose far slowly.
As a result, these workers could not buy goods o fast as industry produced them. Many people had to buy on credit. After a while, workers reduced their spending to hold down their debts. Then the amount of money in circulation decreased, and business became even worse (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53). From 1925 to 1929, the average price of common stocks on the New York Stock Exchange more than doubled. Rising stock values encouraged many people to speculate – that is, buy stocks in hope of making large profits following future price increases (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53).
Stock values dropped rapidly on October 24, 1929, now known as Black Thursday. Most stock prices remained steady on Friday and Saturday. But the next Monday, stock prices fell again. Then, on Tuesday, October 29, stockholders panicked and sold a record of 16,410, 030 shares of stock. Thousands of people lost huge sums of money as stock values fell far below the prices paid for the stock. Banks and businesses had also brought stock, and many lost so much that they had to close. Stock values fell almost steadily for the next three years (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Sides 35; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP).
In October 1929, a sudden, sharp drop in the value of stocks in the United States marked the beginning of a worldwide business slump known as the Great Depression. The depression brought hard times for most Americans, but especially for blacks. Blacks became the chief victims of job discrimination. They adopted the slogan “Last Hired and First Fired” to express their situation (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). To help ease the poverty in the ghettos, black organized cooperative groups.
These groups included the Colored Merchants Association in New York City and “Jobs for Negroes” organizations in places such as St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland an New York City. The groups bought food and other goods in large volume to get the lowest prices. They boycotted stores that had mostly black customers but few, if any, black worker (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Bernanke 57; Sides 35; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). Most black Americans felt that President Herbert Hoover, a Republican, had done little to try to end the depression.
In the elections of 1932, some black voters deserted their traditional loyalty to the Republican Party. They no longer saw it as the party of Abraham Lincoln the emancipator but of Hoover and the depression. In 1936, for the first time, most blacks supported the Democratic Party candidate for President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and helped him win reelection (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Bernanke 57; Sides 35; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). Roosevelt called his program the New Deal. It included measures of reform, relief and recovery and benefited many blacks.
A group of blacks advised Roosevelt on problems the Black Cabinet, included William H. Hastie and Mary McLeod Bethune. Hastie served as assistant solicitor in the Department of Interior, as a U. S. district court judge in the Virgin Islands, and as a civilian aide to the secretary of war. Bethune, founder of Bethune – Cookman College, directed the black affairs division of a federal agency called the National Youth Administration. As a result of the New Deal, black Americans developed a strong loyalty to the Democratic Party (Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP).
Blacks deeply admired President Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor, for her stand in an incident in 1939 involving the great concert singer Marian Anderson. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), a patriotic organization, denied the singer permission to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D. C. , because she was black. Eleanor Roosevelt then resigned from the DAR and helped arranged for Anderson to sing, instead at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday. More then 75,000 blacks and whites attended the concert (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Bernanke 57; Sides 35; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP).
During the early 1940s, the NAACP began to step up its legal campaign against racial discrimination. The campaign achieved a number of important victories, including several favorable rulings by the U. S. Supreme Court. In 1941, for example, the court ruled that separate facilities for white and black railroad passengers must be significantly equal. In 1944, the court declared that the white primary, which excluded blacks from voting in the only meaningful elections in the South, was unconstitutional (Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP).
Besides taking legal action, blacks used new tactics to attack segregation in public places. In 1943, for example, the Congress of Racial Equity (CORE) launched a sit – in at a Chicago restaurant. In this protest, blacks sat in places reserved for white people (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Bernanke 57; Sides 35; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). The Great Depression differed in both lengths and harshness from previous depression in the United States. In earlier depressions, business activity had started to pick up after one or two years. But from October, 1929, until Franklin D.
Roosevelt became President in March, 1933, the economy slumped almost every month. Business failures increased rapidly among banks, factories, and stores and unemployment soared. Millions of people lost their jobs, savings and home (Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). From the years 1930 – 1933, prices of industrial stocks fell about 80 per cent. Banks and individuals with investments in the stock market lost large sums. Banks had also loaned money to many people who could repay it. The deepening depression forced large numbers of people to withdraw their savings.
Banks had great difficulty meeting the withdrawals, which came at a time when the banks were unable to collect on many loans. Between January 1930 and March 1933, about 9,000 banks failed. The bank failures wiped out the savings of millions of people (Smitha 89). Bank failures made less money available for loans to industry. The decline in available money caused a drop in production and a further rise in unemployment. From 1929 to 1933, the total value of goods and services produced annually in the United States fell from about $ 104 billion to about $56 billion.
In 1932, the number of business closings almost a third higher than the 1929 level (Anderson 6). The Great Depression hit the United States – and the world – in 1929. Business firms failed, workers lost their jobs and farmers lost their farms. Banks had made loans to thousands of people who lost their money and could not repay what they owed. The depression also forced large numbers of depositors to withdraw their savings. Banks had great difficulty meeting the withdrawals, which came at a time when they were unable to collect on many loans.
Most banks had also invested in stocks and other property that lost value because of depression (Anderson 6). In 1925, about 3 per cent of the nation’s workers were unemployed. The unemployment rate reached about 9 per cent in 1930 and about 25 per cent – or about 13 million persons – in 1933. Many people who kept or found jobs had to take salary cuts. In 1932, wage cuts averaged about 18 per cent. Many people, including college graduates, felt lucky to find a job. In 1932, the New York City Police Department estimated that 7,000 persons over the age 17 shined shoes for a living (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89).
Foreign trade also fell greatly during the Great Depression. The Smoot – Hawley Taft Act of 1930 contributed to the drop. This law greatly increased a number of tariffs. President Hoover signed the law because he thought it would reduce competition from foreign products. But tariffs rose so high that other nations reacted b raising tariffs on U. S. goods (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89). From 1929 to 1933, prices of farm goods fell about 50 per cent. This drop occurred partly because high tariffs made exports unprofitable. In addition, farmers produced a surplus of crops.
The surplus pushed prices down because there was more food than people could buy (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89). Human suffering became a reality for millions Americans as the depression continued. Many died of disease resulting from malnutrition. Thousands lost their home because they could not pay the mortgage. In 1932, at least 25,000 families and more than 200,000 young people wandered through the country seeking food, clothing, shelter and job. Many youths traveled in freight trains and lived near train yards in camps called hobo jungles (Coy 32).
The homeless, jobless traveler obtained food from welfare agencies or religious missions in towns along the way. Most of their meals consisted of soup, beans, or stew and had little nourishment. The travelers begged for food or stole it if they could not get something to ear in any other way. Sometimes they ate scraps of food from garbage cans (Anderson 6; Coy 32). The ragged travelers found clothing harder to obtain than food. Missions gave most of the clothing they had to needy local people. Some of the travelers became ill because they did not have proper food and clothing.
Even the sick wanderers had trouble getting help because hospitals aided local residents first (Anderson 6; Coy 32). Many people who lost their home remained in the community. Some crowded into the home of a relative. Others moved to a shabby section of town and built shacks from flattened tin cans and old crates. Groups of these shacks were called Hoovervilles, a name that reflected the people’s anger and disappointment at President Hoovey’s failure to end the depression (Anderson 6; Coy 32). In 1932, many farmers refused to ship their products to market. They hoped a reduced supply of farm products would help raise the price of these goods.
Such farmers’ strikes occurred throughout the country, but they centered in Iowa and the surrounding states (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Smitha 89). Severe drought and dust storms hit parts of the Middle West and Southwest during the 1930s. The afflicted region became known as the Dust Bowl, and thousands of farm families there were wiped out. Many farmers went to the fertile agricultural areas of California to look for work. Most who found jobs had to work as fruit and vegetable pickers from extremely low wages. The migrant families crowded into the shacks near the fields or camped outdoors (Coy 32).
President Hoover believed that business, if left alone to operate without government supervision, would correct the economic conditions. He vetoed several bills aimed at relieving the depression because he felt they gave the federal government too much power (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Bernanke 57; Sides 35; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). Hoover declared that state and local governments should provide relief to the needy. But those governments did not have enough money to do so. In 1932, Congress approved Hoover’s most successful anti – depression measure, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC).
This government agency provided some relief by lending money to banks, railroads and other large institutions whose failure would have made the depression even worse. However, most Americans felt that Hoover did not do enough to fight depression. They elected Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Bernanke 57; Sides 35; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP ). Roosevelt believed the federal government had the chief responsibility of fighting the Great Depression. He called Congress into a special session, now called the Hundred Days, to pass laws to relieve the depression.
Roosevelt called his program the New Deal (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). The laws established by the New Deal had three main purposes. First, they provided relief for the needy. Second, they aided nationwide recovery by providing jobs and encouraging business. Third, the laws tried to reform business and government so that such a severe depression would never happen in the United States again (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). In February 1933, the banks of Detroit failed.
The resulting blow to public confidence was so great that depositors throughout the country withdrew money from their banks. These runs ruined many banks (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Smitha 89). To stop the panic, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a nation wide bank holiday that began on March 6, 1933. All banks closed until federal officials examined the books of each. No bank was allowed to reopen until it has been found in good condition. Many never reopened. Roosevelt’s action restored public confidence in banks and ended the crisis (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Smitha 89).
The Glass – Steagall Banking Act of 1933 further strengthened people’s faith in banks. This law, sponsored by Senator Carter Glass of Virginia and Representative Henry B. Steagall of Alabama, created the FDIC to insure bank deposits. The act also restricted banking practices that seemed risky (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Smitha 89). Congress created several agencies to manage relief programs. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), established in 1933, employed thousands of young men in conservation projects. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), founded in 1933, gave the states money for the needy.
The Works Progress Administration (WPA), created in 1935, provided jobs in the construction of bridges, dams and schools (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP). The government also aided recovery by spending large sums of money. This federal spending gave businessmen the confidence to also begin spending. The economy improved after money began to circulate. The government also increased trade by lowering tariffs on certain imported products that they imported from the United States (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP).
Congress created several agencies to supervise banking and labor reforms. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), founded in 1933, insured bank deposits. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), established in 1935, worked to prevent unfair labor practices and aid the development of labor unions. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), created in 1934, attempted to protect investors from buying unsafe stocks and bonds. In 1935, Congress passed the Social Security Act to provide money for retired and unemployed people (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP).
Some Americans who kept their jobs during the Great Depression managed to live comfortably. Many of those who had a steady income could afford to buy an automobile, clothes and other products that were out of reach for most people. Steak cost about 29 cents a pound, and gasoline about 18 cents a gallon. People who had enough money found that, because of low prices, conditions were better during the depression than they had been in the 1920s (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site NP).
The New Deal program not only helped relieve the depression but also renewed the confidence of Americans in the government. But about 15 per cent of the nation’s working force still did not have a job in 1940. The Great Depression did not end in the United States until 1942, after the country had entered World War II. The tremendous increase in production of war materials provided so many jobs that the unemployed rate in the United States fell to about 1 per cent in 1944 (Coy 32; Smitha 89). In Canada, the national economy depended on the export of grain and raw materials.
Canadian farmers and exporters suffered huge losses after other countries increased tariffs on imported products. Many Canadian companies closed, and unemployment rate rose from about 3 per cent of the labor force in 1929 to about 23 per cent in 1933 (Coy 32; Smitha 89). Richard Bennett, who served as prime minister from 1930 to 1935, had little success in his efforts to relieve the depression in Canada. W. L. Mackenzie King succeeded Bennett and adopted programs similar to those of Roosevelt to fight the depression (Coy 32; Smitha 89). The Great Depression caused many changes in the United States.
It brought new laws that gave the government far more power than at any previous time in the nation’s history. It also changed the attitudes of countless Americans toward various aspects of life. New government policies that resulted from the New Deal increased federal control over banks and the stock market. Laws of the New Deal also gave the government more power to provide money for the needy. Ever since the depression, both Democratic and Republican administrations have broadened the powers of the federal government. For example, the government now provides hospital and medical insurances for the aged.
The government may also regulate price and wage increases to try to keep the cost of living from rising (Smitha 89). The depression also changed the basic philosophy of the United States government in spending money. Before the depression, the government tried to spend the same amount of money it collected. But to support the New Deal, the government used deficit spending – that is it spent more money that it collected. This policy greatly increased the national debt. The government has continued to rely on deficit spending during most years since World War II ended in 1945 (Smitha 89).
The depression changed the attitudes of many Americans toward business and the federal government. Before the depression, most people regarded bankers and business executives as the nation’s leaders. After the stock market crashed and these leaders could not relieve the depression, Americans lost faith in them. The government finally succeeded in improving conditions. As a result, many Americans decided that the government – not business – had the responsibility to maintain the national economy (Anderson 6; Coy 32).
Many people changed their basic attitudes toward life because of the suffering they experienced during the depression. They previously had believed they would have a reasonably happy life if they worked hard, saved money, and treated others well. The depression shattered that belief. The situation seemed especially hard to understand because there appeared to be no reason for so many of the things that happened (Anderson 6). The depression probably affected young adults more than any other group from a psychological viewpoint. These men and women encountered great difficulty in finding a job and starting a career.
If they did find a position, they had little chance of promotion because employers eliminated jobs throughout the depression. Consequently, many young adults lost confidence in them selves and lowered their ambitions (Coy 32). Some people who lived through the Great Depression became more concerned with material possessions than did people born after that era. The depression forced people to worry about such necessities as food, clothing and shelter. After the economy improved, many people wanted material comforts that they had lost or had never earned before, including appliances, a car and a house. Others sought financial security.
They stressed the importance of having a job and saving money as a precaution against hard times in the future. The importance of material comforts and financial security that developed among man people of the depression generation affected their relationship with their children. Most people who grew up during the 1950s and 1960s did not know the experience of being wiped out. They knew nothing about having to struggle for money and a job. They did not understand why their parents put such great importance on material possessions and financed security. Many young people criticized such attitudes of their parents.
A lack of both understanding and communication helped create what became known as the “generation gap” of the 1960s and early 1970s (Anderson 6; Coy 32; Samuelson 53; Smitha 89; Bernanke 57; Sides 35). Works Cited Anderson, George M. “Rich Nation, Poor People. ” America (2008): 5 – 6. Bernanke, Ben S. Essays in the Great Depression. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000. Coy, Peter. “Lessons from the depression. ” Business Week (2008): 32. “Great Depression lesson. ” USA Today [News] 31 March 2008: 14a. Samuelson, Robert J. “Hold the Hysteria (for Now). ” Newsweek 151 (2008): 53. Sides, Josh.
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