The Impact of the Great Depression
The stock market crash of 1929 sent the nation spiraling into a state of economic paralysis that became known as the Great Depression. As industries shrank and businesses collapsed or cut back, up to 25% of Americans were left unemployed. At the same time, the financial crisis destroyed the life savings of countless Americans (Modern American Poetry). Food, housing and other consumable goods were in short supply for most people (Zinn 282). This widespread state of poverty had serious social repercussions for the country.
America’s agricultural economy had already been suffering for a decade when nature conspired against the country to exacerbate the Great Depression. From 1931 through 1939, severe winds tore through the Dust Bowl – the region composed of the western parts of Kansas and Oklahoma, parts of New Mexico and Colorado, and the Texas panhandle. These winds stirred up the dust of a landscape already devastated by draught and continuous, exhaustive farming practices. These dust storms threatened people’s health and destroyed whole crops (MAP). Impoverished tenant farmers found themselves unable to keep their farms and were forced off their land. This affected everyone in the region, not just the farmers (MAP). Like in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, countless immigrants, broadly nicknamed and despised as “Okies,” flocked to California where they expected to find an abundance of jobs. They flooded the already saturated agricultural labor market, driving wages down as they competed for the few jobs available (Wikipedia). Thus the Dust Bowl migration magnified the problems of the Great Depression and placed a great deal of stress on California’s already troubled economy.
Widespread unemployment and homelessness forced whole families into a new level of impoverishment. Everyone scrounged about for small, labor intensive jobs at low wages. Even women and children had to work to subsidize the family income. The recently homeless lived in shantytowns nicknamed “Hoovervilles” after President Hoover who was moving slowly and ineffectually to deal with the Depression (Wikipedia). Little food was available and many had to search garbage heaps and other such locations for any kind of sustenance. The economic crisis had ushered in a decade of unprecedented mass poverty and poor living conditions.
Herbert Hoover, the president in office when the Great Depression hit the country, did very little to ameliorate the devastating situation. Hoover underestimated the seriousness of the crisis, misdiagnosed the causes of the problems, and clung to his beliefs in individual achievement and self-help. His corrective measures, aimed at inflation and the federal budget, were thus damaging themselves. Furthermore, he hesitated to mobilize government resources to aid Americans and instead appealed to private groups to lend a hand (Encarta). Thus Hoover’s administration did little to...