The Great Depression and America's 20th Century Economy

Contrary to popular lore, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 did not singly bring on the Great Depression. Economic prosperity hit the twenties with great force, giving even financial professionals a sense of false security. The 1920s saw great changes from the Victorian strictures of the past to freer social mores and rampant economic consumerism. Goods were good, and people bought material possessions and stocks in unprecedented numbers. But when the bottom fell out of prosperity, the United States and the world fell into a huge sinkhole of despair.

The Stock Market Crash of 1929 The precipitating factors of the crash told in the context of the history of the era.

Global Depression Why the U.S. Great Depression impacted the entire world.

Republican President Herbert Hoover erroneously declared that the Great Depression would correct itself, telling Americans that the worst was past. One of the most debilitating eras in American history had actually just begun. Stocks lost 90 percent of their value over the duration of the crash. The aftermath led to one out of every four Americans jobless. Banks collapsed. Food riots broke out in many cities, soup kitchens served people with what ended up many times being the only food that they would get that day. Survival of the fittest became a daily concern. Homeowners lost their homes, often living in shantytowns with those who couldn't pay rent. Financial investors who wrapped all their money into the stock market became so despondent that New York's financial district became a funeral parlor's dream market; suicides were happening so often, that hotel guests were regularly asked if they needed their room for sleeping or for jumping. It is estimated that 50 percent of children didn't have enough food, medical care or shelter. Homeless hopped train cars just for shelter or to travel to what they hoped would bring a city of work opportunity. Unfortunately, scholars estimate that over 50,000 people that attempted to jump onto those rail cars were either hurt or killed. The Great Depression lasted a good ten years. And as scholars also say, if you want to get out of one, have a war.

Factors Causing the Great Depression Facts of the Great Depression in list format.

Riding the Rails Through the Great Depression PBS timeline of the hardships of the Depression.

Depression Overview Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” and Americans getting ready to enter WWII are discussed.

World War II overshadowed the 1940s and Korea, the 1950s. As a matter of fact, no decade has been without war or conflict since the Great Depression. People like Rosie, the Riveter, the poster girl for wartime industrial production, helped pull the United States out of the Great Depression. Women hit the workplace like never before because all of the men were fighting the war. During the war, food ration coupons were used, textiles to make clothing was rationed as well as certain materials to make toys. Metals and other material were needed for the war effort. Before WWI, the American economy had been in surplus mode, now suddenly after the crash, the Great Depression and another World War, we were in billions of dollars in debt. Eight million were still unemployed and minimum wage was a mere forty-three cents an hour. In perspective, a loaf of bread could be bought for nine cents and eggs for 20 cents a dozen. Gas, for those who had cars, was a mere 15 cents a gallon. The annual income rose to $1885.00 per year and kept rising until we hit the fifties where peacetime prosperity created a decade of baby boomers and new hope for new lives. The items rationed in the wartime forties were now in demand, creating new jobs. Women went back to being barefoot and pregnant at home, men took over the production lines. Food prices rose. A loaf of bread now peaked around 14 cents a loaf and unemployment continued to fall as the average salary rose to around $3,000 a year.

Recession Timelines How businesses defied the odds in recessions beginning in the 1940s.

Economics of the 50s Social, political and economic conditions and concerns that mesh into the economic structure of the 1950s. 

The 1960's revolved around cultural freedoms, while the Vietnam War raged in Southeast Asia in both the 1960s and the 1970s. Baby boomer's children were coming of age, wanting choice and change from the conservatism of the quiet fifties. There was a different type of revolution in the air. The economy of the time continued its upward shift as minimum wage rose to nearly $1.70 by the time the seventies rolled around. Teacher's salaries were higher than average salaries and unemployment stayed steady, rising just a few hundred thousand over the course of the decade. Chaos, social and civil unrest rocked the sixties prompting President Johnson to enact several measures to ensure that basic civil and financial rights were protected: Medicare, Medicaid and the Job Corps were begun. The seventies, still hampered by the Vietnam conflict, mainstreamed caricatures of disillusionment and radicalism into seventies culture. The decade also felt the cycle of economic hills and valleys, with stagflation running its course, while many gas stations ran out of fuel as drivers stood in long lines for what little there was available. We were now nearly four billion dollars in debt nationally, yet the average salary increased to nearly $8,000 a year. That same loaf of bread that was nine cents in the 1940s, was now 24 cents a loaf, and milk, 33 cents a quart. As the Vietnam war ended, Americans found a different social sentiment for its soldiers than it had in the 1940s where servicemen returned to ticker tape parades. Now soldiers came back quietly, to cynicism and to economic struggle.

Economic Growth Through the Latter Half of the 20th Century Includes discussion on the nation's growth since the sixties.

National Economic Policy of the 70s The government's role in 1970s economics. A paper from the University of Chicago. 

The 1980s generation was the "me" generation. After all the "lost" feelings of the sixties and the seventies, this generation wanted to have it all. Be young, be rich, and flaunt it...even with double-digit inflation and a national debt of nearly one trillion dollars that doubled in just six years to two trillion dollars. Minimum wage was $3.10 an hour, but income also doubled to almost $16,000 per year. The 80s and the 90s were spendthrift decades, with production lines feverishly replenishing store shelves when such items as the personal computer became a staple of the American scene. Early PCs were very expensive, but with the average hourly wage nearly $14 per hour, spending several thousands of dollars on one of these novelties wasn't out of reach for the average consumer. In the 1990s, savings and loans fell into crisis and the computer dot com bubble burst, making many rich, young computer gurus go belly up. The nineties were a time of economic exploration as the United States economic superpower status was tested. Unemployment still advanced to about six million people or 4.2% of the nearly 300 million Americans listed on the 2000 census. Minimum wage blew past five dollars an hour and the national debt ballooned to an unheard of $5,413.1 million dollars.

Labor History from 1920-1990 The American labor movement cycles contributing to the superficial sense of wealth from the 1920s through the 1980s.

American Cultural History Economic and cultural facts about the 1980s and 1990s. 

The last sixty years of the twentieth century brought social conflict and economic uncertainty to a nation beset by war and personal ambiguity about how to face the times. The common thread weaving the decades is the inevitable fact bad times hit hard, but they always give way to a reawakening of prosperity, real or imagined.

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