What the Great Depression Caused

The Great Depression was the most extended and severe recession in the Western world. It lasted from 1929 to 1939 and began after the stock market crash of 1929, the crash sent panic throughout all of Wall Street and wiped out millions of investors. This caused consumer spending and investment to drop, which led to the steep decline of industrial outputs and employment rates as failing companies laid off workers.

When the Great Depression reached its lowest point in 1933, some 15 million Americans were unemployed and nearly half of America’s banks had failed. The Great Depression contributed to the Dust Bowl because the years of sustained drought and poor agricultural practices caused the Dust Bowl. The Great Depression was the worst recession in history because it negatively impacted people’s everyday lives, there was a considerable decrease in employment rates, and crime rates increased dramatically.

To begin, the Great Depression affected millions of American’s lives in the same ways without their race, gender, job, or wealth mattering. An example of this is when Lindsey Lonkel states in the article “Life for the Average Family during the Great Depression”, “Even upper-middle-class professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, saw their incomes drop by as much as 40 percent.

Families who had previously enjoyed economic security suddenly faced financial instability or, in some cases, ruin” (Lonkel). This demonstrates how much of an impact the Great Depression had on families because no matter the size of the drop in their incomes, they all suddenly faced financial instability and poverty at certain points during the depression. This is important because it really shows how much of a financial impact the Great Depression had on its victims because if the wealthy faced at least a forty percent drop in their incomes, just think about how much of an impact it had on the middle/low-income families. With this humongous drop in the economy, many people and families were forced to be more conservative with their budgets. An example of this is when Lindsey Lonkel writes:

Women’s magazines and radio shows taught Depression-era homemakers how to stretch their food budget with casseroles and one-pot meals. … Potlucks, often organized by churches, became a popular way to share food and a cheap form of social entertainment. Many families strived for self-sufficiency by keeping small kitchen gardens with vegetables and herbs.

Some towns and cities allowed for the conversion of vacant lots to community “thrift gardens” where residents could grow food. … The radio also provided a free form of entertainment. By the early 1930s, many middle-class families owned a home radio. Comedy programs such as Amos ‘n’ Andy, soap operas, sporting events, and swing music distracted listeners from everyday struggles. … Women found work as secretaries, teachers, telephone operators, and nurses. But in many cases, employers paid women workers less than their male counterparts. … Marriages became strained, though many couples could not afford to separate. Divorce rates dropped during the 1930s though abandonments increased. Some men deserted their families out of embarrassment or frustration (Lonkel).

Lonkel demonstrates how families were affected by the Great Depression because they had to find ways to stretch their budgets to be able to pay for their food, electricity, water, etc…; they even had to find ways entertain themselves for very low prices. This emphasizes how much of an impact financial strains put on families, because for a woman to have to get a job to be able to sustain her family, and in the 20s and 30s when it was very looked down upon, that family had to be going through a lot.

Another example of this is when Lee Sustar states in “Blacks and the Great Depression”, “The Great Depression of the 1930s was catastrophic for all workers. But as usual, Blacks suffered worse, pushed out of unskilled jobs previously scorned by whites before the depression. Blacks faced unemployment of 50 percent or more, compared with about 30 percent for whites. Black wages were at least 30 percent below those of white workers, who themselves were barely at subsistence level” (Sustar).

This shows how the struggle was generally the same for everyone, but that it was not exactly equal. Since Blacks have always been pushed out of jobs for white men and paid less than them, the Great Depression was much worse for them and all the other minorities as well. This is just one of the reasons why the Great Depression was the worst recession in history, but there are others.

Furthermore, unemployment rates increased dramatically. An example of this is when the “Great Depression History” states, “By then, production had already declined and unemployment had risen, leaving stock prices much higher than their actual value. Additionally, wages at that time were low, consumer debt was proliferating, the agricultural sector of the economy was struggling due to drought and falling food prices, and banks had an excess of large loans that could not be liquidated”. This shows how the unemployment rates dropped due to many companies’ inability to pay their workers, causing them to let go of all the workers they could not pay, which was the majority. This is important because it showed the beginning of the drop in employment rates, which led to an overwhelming number of people without jobs.

Another example of this is when History.com states, “The American economy entered a mild recession during the summer of 1929, as consumer spending slowed and unsold goods began to pile up, which in turn slowed factory production. Nonetheless, stock prices continued to rise, and by the fall of that year had reached stratospheric levels that could not be justified by expected future earnings”. This demonstrates how the overproduction of goods and overspending paved the way for the drop in employment rates. When a product is over consumed, it is produced in large numbers causing the product to be overproduced if it is not sold, leading to a very big loss of money, which makes employers let go of workers because they can no longer afford to pay them.

Another example of this is when Lindsey Konkel states, “Despite widespread unemployment during the Depression years, the number of married women in the workforce actually increased. Some people criticized married women for taking jobs when so many men were out of work, though women often took clerical or service industry positions that weren’t seen as socially acceptable for men at the time. Women found work as secretaries, teachers, telephone operators, and nurses. But in many cases, employers paid women workers less than their male counterparts” (Konkel).

Even though the unemployment rates were at an all-time low, the number of women who joined the workforce in order to support their families increased. Since there is always a need for assistance and health care providers, it was easier for women to find jobs as nurses and assistants. When a woman joins the workforce in the 20s and the 30s, it shows how much that family struggled; financial stress would also split families up into what people called “poor man’s divorce”. These are just some of the reasons why the Great Depression was the worst recession in history, but there are many more reasons.

To continue, the crime rates increased dramatically. An example of this is when the article “Crime in the Great Depression” states, “The passage of the 18th Amendment and the introduction of Prohibition in 1920 fueled the rise of organized crime, with gangsters growing rich on profits from bootleg liquor—often aided by corrupt local policemen and politicians. According to the FBI, Chicago alone had an estimated 1,300 gangs by the mid-1920s,” (History.com). There weren’t really organized crimes but gangs would always have turf wars and other types of violent activities between their rival gangs. This is important because gangs were doing illegal things with the help of corrupt policemen and politicians, who let them get away with their crimes. They would make their money by selling bootleg liquor during the Prohibition Era, which was the nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages, which lasted from 1920 to 1933. An example of this is when History states, “Prohibition was unpopular with the public and bootleggers became heroes to many for supplying illegal alcohol during hard times.

In hit movies like Little Caesar and The Public Enemy (both released in 1931), Hollywood depicted gangsters as champions of individualism and self-made men surviving in tough economic times” (History.com). Gangsters were idolized because they would supply alcohol to people who needed it to get through the hard times of the Great Depression. This demonstrates the beginning of an interest in crime, which later led to an increase in crime over time. This led to the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s son in 1931, causing an increase of the growing sense of lawlessness. Another example of this is when the text states:

At the same time, colorful figures like John Dillinger, Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, “Baby Face” Nelson and “Ma” Barker and her sons were committing a wave of bank robberies and other crimes across the country. Many Americans who had lost confidence in their government, and especially in their banks, saw these daring figures as outlaw heroes, even as the FBI included them on its new “Public Enemies” list. But after the so-called Kansas City Massacre in June 1933, in which three gunmen fatally ambushed a group of unarmed police officers and FBI agents escorting bank robber Frank Nash back to prison, the public seemed to welcome a full-fledged war on crime. … Violent crime rates may have risen at first during the Depression (in 1933, nationwide homicide mortality rate hit a high for the century until that point, at 9.7 per 100,000 people) but the trend did not continue throughout the decade.

As the economy showed signs of recovery in 1934-37, the homicide rate went down by 20 percent. New Deal programs were likely a major factor in declining crime rates, as was the end of Prohibition and a slowdown of immigration and migration of people from rural America to northern cities, all of which reduced urban crime rates. Even when the U.S. economy stalled again in 1937-38, homicide rates kept falling, reaching 6.4 per 100,000 by the end of the decade. (History.com)

Overall, it demonstrates the rise in crime at the beginning of the Great Depression, but with the economy showing signs of recovery the rates went down. This is important because it shows what can happen when there is a sense of hopelessness and mayhem. There are other reasons why the Great Depression was the worst recession in history.

In brief, the Great Depression was the worst type of recession because it greatly affected millions of American’s lives in the same ways without their race or gender mattering, employment rates decreasing dramatically, and an increase in crime. Generally, everyone went through the same experiences. They may have all been at different paces, but all Americans were suddenly faced with financial instability and poverty. This occurred because many people were left without jobs due to companies laying off multiple workers at the same time. With so many people left without jobs, there were people like gangsters who found different ways to try to make money to support their families; leading to a rise in crime. The Great Depression negatively impacted the United States’ economy, breaking many Americans’ confidence and trust in their leaders and banks. This gave many Americans an unclear vision of the economy’s future, leaving them with uncertainty and fear.