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The Great Depression Essay

The recession of the American economy led to the greatest depression that has never been experienced in the American economic history. The Great Depression, experienced between 1929 and 1932, was a period of extreme hardship in America as it forced Americans to experience an economic crisis which left many jobless and hopeless. It was the worst and longest difficult situation in the country’s economic history that threw many hardworking people into poverty. People lost their homes, farms as well as their businesses (Gunderson 4). The Great Depression led to economic stagnation and widespread unemployment and also the depression was experienced in virtually all in every major industrialized country (Hall and Ferguson 2). The impact of the Great Depression was devastating as many individuals lost their homes because they had no work and a steady income and as a result, most of them were forced to live in makeshift dwellings with poor condition and sanitation. Many children dropped out of school and married women were forced to carry a greater domestic burden. More so, the depression widened the gap between the rich and the poor (Freedman 14) because many poor individuals suffered the hardships during this period while the rich remained unaffected. This paper discusses the period of Great Depression and it covers the life during this time and how the city dwellers, farmers, children and minority groups were affected. The Great Depression started following the occurrence of the Wall Street crash and rapidly spread in different parts of the world; however, some have argued that it was triggered by mistakes in monetary policy and poor government policy (Evans 15). Different hardships and challenges were experience by individuals in different parts of the world with many people left with no work. More so, individuals especially farmers suffered from poverty and low profits, deflation and they had no opportunity for personal and economic growth. Notably, different people were affected differently, for instance, unemployment affected men and they were desperate for work while children were forced to leave school and search for something to do so as to earn money for their family. Farmers were greatly affected because this period led to decrease in price in the prices of their crops and livestock and they still worked hard to produce more so as to pay their debts, taxes and living expenses. The period before this economic crisis, farmers were already losing money due to industrialization in cities and so most of them were renting their land and machinery. When the depression started, prices on food produced by farmers deflated leaving them incapable of making profit and so they stopped selling their farm products and this in turn affected the city dwellers that were unable to produce their own food. Undoubtedly, after the stock market crash, many firms declined and many workers were forced out of their jobs because there were really no jobs. Moreover, many people had no money to purchase commodities and so the consumer demand for manufactured goods reduced significantly. Sadly, individuals had to learn to do without new clothing. The prices dropped significantly leaving farmers bankrupt and as a result most of them lost their farms. Some farmers were angry and desperate proposing that the government should intervene and ensure that farm families remain in their respective homes. But again, farmers were better off than city dwellers because they could produce much of their own food. Many farm families had large gardens with enough food crops and in some families, women made clothes from flour and feed sacks and generally, these farm families learned how to survive with what they have and little money.

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Furthermore, the town and cities suffered too, for instance, as the factories were shutting down following the depression many industrial workers were left jobless. The life in the city was not easy as many individuals lived in overcrowded and unheated houses with poor sanitation. In addition, many firms closed and many individuals lost their jobs and had to deal with the reality of living in poverty. Town families were unable to produce their own food and so many city dwellers often went hungry during this period. During winter, they had hard times overcoming the cold because they had no money to buy coal to warm their houses. During the depression, the known role of women was homemaking because they had a difficult time finding jobs and so the only thing they were supposedly good at was preparing meals for their families and keeping their families together. Some women who managed to have jobs supported their families in overcoming this difficult time. Accordingly, many children were deprived their right to have access to quality education because many societies had to close down their schools due to lack of money. Some of them managed to be in schools but majority dropped out. More so, they suffered from malnutrition and those in rural areas were worse off because with the family’s low income, they were unable to purchase adequate nutritional food for all family members. Many children and even adults died from diseases and malnutrition (Gunderson 4). The minority groups in America especially the African American population who lived in rural areas working on the farms of white owners. Even though they lived in poverty, the Depression made the situation worse as their lived changed completely and remained extremely poor because the farmers they were working for had lost their land. All in all, many families struggled to leave on low incomes or no jobs with many children starving; lacked shelter and clothing as well as medical attention (Freedman 4).

In conclusion, the Great Depression was a tragic time in American history that left many people poor, unemployed or little pay, and children forced to work at a younger age. The Great Depression affected everyone from children to adults, farmers to city dwellers and so everyone’s lives changed drastically by the events experienced during this period. Many individuals were unemployed and remained desperate searching for better lives. In addition, children had no access to quality education as most of them left school and sadly they accompanied their mothers to look for work and search for a new life. However, some people particularly the employers and the wealthy were not affected during this period because they were protected from the depression with their position in the society.

Works Cited

Evans, Paul. “What Caused the Great Depression in the United States?” Managerial Finance 23.2 (1997): 15-24.

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Freedman, Russell. Children of the Great Depression. New York: Clarion Books, 2005. Print.

Gunderson, Cory G. The Great Depression. Edina, Minn: ABDO Pub, 2004. Internet resource.

Hall, Thomas E, and Ferguson J D. The Great Depression: An International Disaster of Perverse Economic Policies. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998. Internet resource.

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The Great Depression

A bread line at Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street, New York City, during the Great Depression

“Regarding the Great Depression, … we did it. We’re very sorry. … We won’t do it again.” —Ben Bernanke, November 8, 2002, in a speech given at “A Conference to Honor Milton Friedman … On the Occasion of His 90th Birthday.”

In 2002, Ben Bernanke , then a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, acknowledged publicly what economists have long believed. The Federal Reserve’s mistakes contributed to the “worst economic disaster in American history” (Bernanke 2002).

Bernanke, like other economic historians, characterized the Great Depression as a disaster because of its length, depth, and consequences. The Depression lasted a decade, beginning in 1929 and ending during World War II. Industrial production plummeted. Unemployment soared. Families suffered. Marriage rates fell. The contraction began in the United States and spread around the globe. The Depression was the longest and deepest downturn in the history of the United States and the modern industrial economy.

The Great Depression began in August 1929, when the economic expansion of the Roaring Twenties came to an end. A series of financial crises punctuated the contraction. These crises included a stock market crash in 1929 , a series of regional banking panics in 1930 and 1931 , and a series of national and international financial crises from 1931 through 1933 . The downturn hit bottom in March 1933, when the commercial banking system collapsed and President Roosevelt declared a national banking holiday . 1    Sweeping reforms of the financial system accompanied the economic recovery, which was interrupted by a double-dip recession in 1937 . Return to full output and employment occurred during the Second World War.

To understand Bernanke’s statement, one needs to know what he meant by “we,” “did it,” and “won’t do it again.”

By “we,” Bernanke meant the leaders of the Federal Reserve System. At the start of the Depression, the Federal Reserve’s decision-making structure was decentralized and often ineffective. Each district had a governor who set policies for his district, although some decisions required approval of the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, DC. The Board lacked the authority and tools to act on its own and struggled to coordinate policies across districts. The governors and the Board understood the need for coordination; frequently corresponded concerning important issues; and established procedures and programs, such as the Open Market Investment Committee, to institutionalize cooperation. When these efforts yielded consensus, monetary policy could be swift and effective. But when the governors disagreed, districts could and sometimes did pursue independent and occasionally contradictory courses of action.

The governors disagreed on many issues, because at the time and for decades thereafter, experts disagreed about the best course of action and even about the correct conceptual framework for determining optimal policy. Information about the economy became available with long and variable lags. Experts within the Federal Reserve, in the business community, and among policymakers in Washington, DC, had different perceptions of events and advocated different solutions to problems. Researchers debated these issues for decades. Consensus emerged gradually. The views in this essay reflect conclusions expressed in the writings of three recent chairmen, Paul Volcke r, Alan Greenspan , and Ben Bernanke .

By “did it,” Bernanke meant that the leaders of the Federal Reserve implemented policies that they thought were in the public interest. Unintentionally, some of their decisions hurt the economy. Other policies that would have helped were not adopted.

An example of the former is the Fed’s decision to raise interest rates in 1928 and 1929. The Fed did this in an attempt to limit speculation in securities markets. This action slowed economic activity in the United States. Because the international gold standard linked interest rates and monetary policies among participating nations, the Fed’s actions triggered recessions in nations around the globe. The Fed repeated this mistake when responding to the international financial crisis in the fall of 1931. This website explores these issues in greater depth in our entries on the stock market crash of 1929 and the financial crises of 1931 through 1933 .

An example of the latter is the Fed’s failure to act as a lender of last resort during the banking panics that began in the fall of 1930 and ended with the banking holiday in the winter of 1933. This website explores this issue in essays on the banking panics of 1930 to 1931 , the banking acts of 1932 , and the banking holiday of 1933 .

Men study the announcement of jobs at an employment agency during the Great Depression.

One reason that Congress created the Federal Reserve, of course, was to act as a lender of last resort. Why did the Federal Reserve fail in this fundamental task? The Federal Reserve’s leaders disagreed about the best response to banking crises. Some governors subscribed to a doctrine similar to Bagehot’s dictum, which says that during financial panics, central banks should loan funds to solvent financial institutions beset by runs. Other governors subscribed to a doctrine known as real bills. This doctrine indicated that central banks should supply more funds to commercial banks during economic expansions, when individuals and firms demanded additional credit to finance production and commerce, and less during economic contractions, when demand for credit contracted. The real bills doctrine did not definitively describe what to do during banking panics, but many of its adherents considered panics to be symptoms of contractions, when central bank lending should contract. A few governors subscribed to an extreme version of the real bills doctrine labeled “liquidationist.” This doctrine indicated that during financial panics, central banks should stand aside so that troubled financial institutions would fail. This pruning of weak institutions would accelerate the evolution of a healthier economic system. Herbert Hoover’s secretary of treasury, Andrew Mellon, who served on the Federal Reserve Board, advocated this approach. These intellectual tensions and the Federal Reserve’s ineffective decision-making structure made it difficult, and at times impossible, for the Fed’s leaders to take effective action.

Among leaders of the Federal Reserve, differences of opinion also existed about whether to help and how much assistance to extend to financial institutions that did not belong to the Federal Reserve. Some leaders thought aid should only be extended to commercial banks that were members of the Federal Reserve System. Others thought member banks should receive assistance substantial enough to enable them to help their customers, including financial institutions that did not belong to the Federal Reserve, but the advisability and legality of this pass-through assistance was the subject of debate. Only a handful of leaders thought the Federal Reserve (or federal government) should directly aid commercial banks (or other financial institutions) that did not belong to the Federal Reserve. One advocate of widespread direct assistance was  Eugene Meyer , governor of the Federal Reserve Board, who was instrumental in the creation of the  Reconstruction Finance Corporation .

These differences of opinion contributed to the Federal Reserve’s most serious sin of omission: failure to stem the decline in the supply of money. From the fall of 1930 through the winter of 1933, the money supply fell by nearly 30 percent. The declining supply of funds reduced average prices by an equivalent amount. This deflation increased debt burdens; distorted economic decision-making; reduced consumption; increased unemployment; and forced banks, firms, and individuals into bankruptcy. The deflation stemmed from the collapse of the banking system, as explained in the essay on the  banking panics of 1930 and 1931 .

The Federal Reserve could have prevented deflation by preventing the collapse of the banking system or by counteracting the collapse with an expansion of the monetary base, but it failed to do so for several reasons. The economic collapse was unforeseen and unprecedented. Decision makers lacked effective mechanisms for determining what went wrong and lacked the authority to take actions sufficient to cure the economy. Some decision makers misinterpreted signals about the state of the economy, such as the nominal interest rate, because of their adherence to the real bills philosophy. Others deemed defending the gold standard by raising interests and reducing the supply of money and credit to be better for the economy than aiding ailing banks with the opposite actions.

On several occasions, the Federal Reserve did implement policies that modern monetary scholars believe could have stemmed the contraction. In the spring of 1931, the Federal Reserve began to expand the monetary base, but the expansion was insufficient to offset the deflationary effects of the banking crises. In the spring of 1932, after Congress provided the Federal Reserve with the necessary authority, the Federal Reserve expanded the monetary base aggressively. The policy appeared effective initially, but after a few months the Federal Reserve changed course. A series of political and international shocks hit the economy, and the contraction resumed. Overall, the Fed’s efforts to end the deflation and resuscitate the financial system, while well intentioned and based on the best available information, appear to have been too little and too late.

The flaws in the Federal Reserve’s structure became apparent during the initial years of the Great Depression. Congress responded by reforming the Federal Reserve and the entire financial system. Under the Hoover administration, congressional reforms culminated in the  Reconstruction Finance Corporation Act and the Banking Act of 1932 . Under the Roosevelt administration, reforms culminated in the  Emergency Banking Act of 1933 , the  Banking Act of 1933 (commonly called Glass-Steagall) , the  Gold Reserve Act of 1934 , and the  Banking Act of 1935 . This legislation shifted some of the Federal Reserve’s responsibilities to the Treasury Department and to new federal agencies such as the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. These agencies dominated monetary and banking policy until the 1950s.

The reforms of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s turned the Federal Reserve into a modern central bank. The creation of the modern intellectual framework underlying economic policy took longer and continues today. The Fed’s combination of a well-designed central bank and an effective conceptual framework enabled Bernanke to state confidently that “we won’t do it again.”

  • 1  These business cycle dates come from the National Bureau of Economic Research . Additional materials on the Federal Reserve can be found at the website of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.


Bernanke, Ben. Essays on the Great Depression . Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Bernanke, Ben, “ On Milton Friedman's Ninetieth Birthday ," Remarks by Governor Ben S. Bernanke at the Conference to Honor Milton Friedman, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, November 8, 2002.

Chandler, Lester V. American Monetary Policy, 1928 to 1941 . New York: Harper and Row, 1971.

Chandler, Lester V. American’s Greatest Depression, 1929-1941 . New York: Harper Collins, 1970.

Eichengreen, Barry. “The Origins and Nature of the Great Slump Revisited.” Economic History Review 45, no. 2 (May 1992): 213–239.

Friedman, Milton and Anna Schwartz. A Monetary History of the United States: 1867-1960 . Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963.

Kindleberger, Charles P. The World in Depression, 1929-1939 : Revised and Enlarged Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

Meltzer, Allan. A History of the Federal Reserve: Volume 1, 1913 to 1951 . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Romer, Christina D. “The Nation in Depression.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 7, no. 2 (1993): 19-39.

Temin, Peter. Lessons from the Great Depression (Lionel Robbins Lectures) . Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989.

Written as of November 22, 2013. See disclaimer .

Essays in this Time Period

  • Bank Holiday of 1933
  • Banking Act of 1933 (Glass-Steagall)
  • Banking Act of 1935
  • Banking Acts of 1932
  • Banking Panics of 1930-31
  • Banking Panics of 1931-33
  • Stock Market Crash of 1929
  • Emergency Banking Act of 1933
  • Gold Reserve Act of 1934
  • Recession of 1937–38
  • Roosevelt's Gold Program

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In 1929-1939, Americans faced the darkest pages known as the Great Depression. It is first associated with the unemployment and poverty of millions of people worldwide. The powerful figure who helped the country out of the economic crisis and World War 2 was Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States. He effectively utilized all his strength to unite and restore the nation from the Depression.

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The Causes of the Great Depression: Black Tuesday and Panic Essay

The Great Depression is one of America’s worse periods in history. The period officially began on what is commonly referred to as the black Tuesday, 29 October 1929. On this day, stock prices dropped to unimaginable levels plunging the country into panic. For almost 10 years, America had a thriving economy and everyone was optimistic about a better future. However, many people did not know that this was a lull before the storm because on that particular Tuesday the stock market tumbled like a house of cards. In the panic, people rushed to sell their stocks that of course, no one was willing to buy. It then became apparent to everyone that the stock market that was perceived as the best way for one to gain wealth was now the surest way to poverty. (Bernanke 30)

The stock market was not the only one that was affected. The banks that had also invested big amounts of their customer’s money in the stock market were negatively affected by its collapse. This collapse led to the closure of many big banks plunging many people into misery since the banks closed down with their savings. Customers with money in banks that had not yet shut down rushed to withdraw their money. In turn, these banks could not manage to operate due to the huge amounts of money that the clients were withdrawing leading to more closures.

To deal with the tough economic time, individuals began to cut down on their spending. People only bought the essential goods to save their almost non-existent capital. The reduced spending by consumers caused businesses to reduce the wages of their workers to cope with the reduced profits. Even with these measures, some businesses closed down leaving their employees without a source of income. Already owed heavily, individuals also cut down on borrowing to cut down on debt.

The federal government on its part led by President Roosevelt came up with recovery measures that were called the First New Deal. The measures involved giving relief to those who had lost their jobs due to the recession and to farmers who were badly affected due to prolonged drought in the land. The packages also undertook to reform businesses and financial institutions and to bring them back to profitable ways. Lastly, Roosevelt sought to promote the recovery of the economy that had taken a nosedive during the recession.

To achieve these goals, the federal government increased its control over the economy and regulated the supply of money. The government also controlled the prices of commodities and products in the agricultural sector. Though all these measures were geared toward bringing an end to the depression, this did not happen immediately. Historians relate the end of the great depression to the start of the second-word war. This in essence means that the federal governments’ measures did not achieve their main purpose. The people on the other hand learned to live within their means and were patient throughout the recession period.

Today, the US is in a recession and the economy is bleak for many Americans. Like in the time of the Great Depression, many Americans have been rendered jobless and the economy is at its lowest peak. Many people have also lost their homes. This is a trend that was characteristic during the great depression. Like the federal government back then, the Obama administration is also putting in measures to fight the effects of the recession.

However, there is a big contrast between how the federal government dealt with the Great Depression and how the current recession is being dealt with. While the banks were allowed to crumble during the depression, the government is not letting that happen today. The government has pumped in billions of dollars to ensure that there is no repeat of what happened during the depression. Instead of letting businesses sink, President Obama has embarked on a program to ensure that no company crumples. To ensure that no one is homeless, Obama signed into law an incentive that gives up to $ 8000 tax credit for first-time house buyers. This is meant to ensure that no one is left homeless for inability to buy a home.

The government has also been giving cash bailouts to big companies that were on the verge of collapse. An example of this was the bailout of the biggest insurance company AIG. The company got $ 150 billion as a bailout package the largest that has ever been given to a single company. This in turn prevented the company from collapsing thus preserving thousands of jobs and securing clients’ money. This is something that the federal government did not consider doing during the Great Depression. This led to the loss of numerous jobs and customers’ money after the collapse of such kinds of financial institutions.

The great depression was a period characterized by the loss of jobs and the collapse of businesses. Individuals tried as much as they could to cope with the hard economic times. They did this by cutting down on their spending and failing to borrow cash that could in return increase their debts. The government then came up with packages that sought to lessen the effects of the depression. Like in the Great Depression, America is today going through a time of economic recession. The government has however undertaken fast measures to make sure that people do not suffer as they did during the great depression.

Works cited

Bernanke, Ben. Essays on the great depression , 10-40. Princeton University Press. 2000. Print.

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Great Depression History

By: History.com Editors

Updated: October 20, 2023 | Original: October 29, 2009

New York, USA 1931. New Yorkers celebrated Christmas in 1931, with a city-wide solicitude for those touched by misfortune during the year. The Municipal Lodging House fed 10,000 persons, including about 100 women and the Police Glee Club and the Police BNew York, USA, 1931, New Yorkers celebrated Christmas in 1931, with a city-wide solicitude for those touched by misfortune during the year, The Municipal Lodging House fed 10,000 persons, including about 100 women and the Police Glee Club and the Police Band entertained them, Here a line of hungrey men waiting to enter the Municipal Lodging House on East 25th street (Photo by Rolls Press/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

The Great Depression was the worst economic crisis in modern history, lasting from 1929 until the beginning of World War II in 1939. The causes of the Great Depression included slowing consumer demand, mounting consumer debt, decreased industrial production and the rapid and reckless expansion of the U.S. stock market. When the stock market crashed in October 1929, it triggered a crisis in the international economy, which was linked via the gold standard. A rash of bank failures followed in 1930, and as the Dust Bowl increased the number of farm foreclosures, unemployment topped 20 percent by 1933. Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to stimulate the economy with a range of incentives including Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, but ultimately it took the manufacturing production increases of World War II to end the Great Depression.

What Caused the Great Depression?

Throughout the 1920s, the U.S. economy expanded rapidly, and the nation’s total wealth more than doubled between 1920 and 1929, a period dubbed “ the Roaring Twenties .”

The stock market, centered at the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street in New York City , was the scene of reckless speculation, where everyone from millionaire tycoons to cooks and janitors poured their savings into stocks. As a result, the stock market underwent rapid expansion, reaching its peak in August 1929.

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.

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.

Stock Market Crash of 1929

On October 24, 1929, as nervous investors began selling overpriced shares en masse, the stock market crash that some had feared happened at last. A record 12.9 million shares were traded that day, known as “Black Thursday.”

Five days later, on October 29, or “Black Tuesday,” some 16 million shares were traded after another wave of panic swept Wall Street. Millions of shares ended up worthless, and those investors who had bought stocks “on margin” (with borrowed money) were wiped out completely.

As consumer confidence vanished in the wake of the stock market crash, the downturn in spending and investment led factories and other businesses to slow down production and begin firing their workers. For those who were lucky enough to remain employed, wages fell and buying power decreased.

Many Americans forced to buy on credit fell into debt, and the number of foreclosures and repossessions climbed steadily. The global adherence to the gold standard , which joined countries around the world in fixed currency exchange, helped spread economic woes from the United States throughout the world, especially in Europe.

Bank Runs and the Hoover Administration

Despite assurances from President Herbert Hoover and other leaders that the crisis would run its course, matters continued to get worse over the next three years. By 1930, 4 million Americans looking for work could not find it; that number had risen to 6 million in 1931.

Meanwhile, the country’s industrial production had dropped by half. Bread lines, soup kitchens and rising numbers of homeless people became more and more common in America’s towns and cities. Farmers couldn’t afford to harvest their crops and were forced to leave them rotting in the fields while people elsewhere starved. In 1930, severe droughts in the Southern Plains brought high winds and dust from Texas to Nebraska, killing people, livestock and crops. The “ Dust Bowl ” inspired a mass migration of people from farmland to cities in search of work.

In the fall of 1930, the first of four waves of banking panics began, as large numbers of investors lost confidence in the solvency of their banks and demanded deposits in cash, forcing banks to liquidate loans in order to supplement their insufficient cash reserves on hand.

Bank runs swept the United States again in the spring and fall of 1931 and the fall of 1932, and by early 1933 thousands of banks had closed their doors.

In the face of this dire situation, Hoover’s administration tried supporting failing banks and other institutions with government loans; the idea was that the banks in turn would loan to businesses, which would be able to hire back their employees.

FDR and the Great Depression

Hoover, a Republican who had formerly served as U.S. secretary of commerce, believed that government should not directly intervene in the economy and that it did not have the responsibility to create jobs or provide economic relief for its citizens.

In 1932, however, with the country mired in the depths of the Great Depression and some 15 million people unemployed, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt won an overwhelming victory in the presidential election.

By Inauguration Day (March 4, 1933), every U.S. state had ordered all remaining banks to close at the end of the fourth wave of banking panics, and the U.S. Treasury didn’t have enough cash to pay all government workers. Nonetheless, FDR (as he was known) projected a calm energy and optimism, famously declaring "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Roosevelt took immediate action to address the country’s economic woes, first announcing a four-day “bank holiday” during which all banks would close so that Congress could pass reform legislation and reopen those banks determined to be sound. He also began addressing the public directly over the radio in a series of talks, and these so-called “ fireside chats ” went a long way toward restoring public confidence.

During Roosevelt’s first 100 days in office, his administration passed legislation that aimed to stabilize industrial and agricultural production, create jobs and stimulate recovery.

In addition, Roosevelt sought to reform the financial system, creating the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ( FDIC ) to protect depositors’ accounts and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to regulate the stock market and prevent abuses of the kind that led to the 1929 crash.

The New Deal: A Road to Recovery

Among the programs and institutions of the New Deal that aided in recovery from the Great Depression was the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) , which built dams and hydroelectric projects to control flooding and provide electric power to the impoverished Tennessee Valley region, and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) , a permanent jobs program that employed 8.5 million people from 1935 to 1943.

When the Great Depression began, the United States was the only industrialized country in the world without some form of unemployment insurance or social security. In 1935, Congress passed the Social Security Act , which for the first time provided Americans with unemployment, disability and pensions for old age.

After showing early signs of recovery beginning in the spring of 1933, the economy continued to improve throughout the next three years, during which real GDP (adjusted for inflation) grew at an average rate of 9 percent per year.

A sharp recession hit in 1937, caused in part by the Federal Reserve’s decision to increase its requirements for money in reserve. Though the economy began improving again in 1938, this second severe contraction reversed many of the gains in production and employment and prolonged the effects of the Great Depression through the end of the decade.

Depression-era hardships fueled the rise of extremist political movements in various European countries, most notably that of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime in Germany. German aggression led war to break out in Europe in 1939, and the WPA turned its attention to strengthening the military infrastructure of the United States, even as the country maintained its neutrality.

African Americans in the Great Depression

One-fifth of all Americans receiving federal relief during the Great Depression were Black, most in the rural South. But farm and domestic work, two major sectors in which Black workers were employed, were not included in the 1935 Social Security Act, meaning there was no safety net in times of uncertainty. Rather than fire domestic help, private employers could simply pay them less without legal repercussions. And those relief programs for which African Americans were eligible on paper were rife with discrimination in practice since all relief programs were administered locally.

Despite these obstacles, Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet,” led by Mary McLeod Bethune , ensured nearly every New Deal agency had a Black advisor. The number of African Americans working in government tripled .

Women in the Great Depression

There was one group of Americans who actually gained jobs during the Great Depression: Women. From 1930 to 1940, the number of employed women in the United States rose 24 percent from 10.5 million to 13 million Though they’d been steadily entering the workforce for decades, the financial pressures of the Great Depression drove women to seek employment in ever greater numbers as male breadwinners lost their jobs. The 22 percent decline in marriage rates between 1929 and 1939 also created an increase in single women in search of employment.

Women during the Great Depression had a strong advocate in First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt , who lobbied her husband for more women in office—like Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins , the first woman to ever hold a cabinet position.

Jobs available to women paid less but were more stable during the banking crisis: nursing, teaching and domestic work. They were supplanted by an increase in secretarial roles in FDR’s rapidly-expanding government. But there was a catch: over 25 percent of the National Recovery Administration’s wage codes set lower wages for women, and jobs created under the WPA confined women to fields like sewing and nursing that paid less than roles reserved for men.

Married women faced an additional hurdle: By 1940, 26 states had placed restrictions known as marriage bars on their employment, as working wives were perceived as taking away jobs from able-bodied men—even if, in practice, they were occupying jobs men would not want and doing them for far less pay.

Great Depression Ends and World War II Begins

With Roosevelt’s decision to support Britain and France in the struggle against Germany and the other Axis Powers, defense manufacturing geared up, producing more and more private-sector jobs.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 led to America’s entry into World War II, and the nation’s factories went back into full production mode.

This expanding industrial production, as well as widespread conscription beginning in 1942, reduced the unemployment rate to below its pre-Depression level. The Great Depression had ended at last, and the United States turned its attention to the global conflict of World War II.

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The Great Depression: America 1929-1941 Essay Questions

By robert s. mcelvaine, essay questions.

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What was the primary cause of the great depression according to Robert Mcelvaine?

Robert Mcelvaine describes the unequal distribution of consumable income as the primary cause for the depression. During the 1920s and 1930s, the economy largely depended on consumer spending. Since income was distributable among the few individuals, demand for consumer goods declined sharply crumbling the economy. Many people were not able to afford commodities implying that the companies and other businesses could not sell their goods. Due to highly reduced sales, businesses were unable to service their loans and the financial sector collapsed.

What is the symbolic meaning of the term 'depression' as used by the author in The Great Depression: America 1929-1941?

The author uses the term 'depression' to represent desperateness of the American people faced during the hard-financial times. Many people lost their properties due to devaluation and others even died of stress. Many people who were doing well before the depression became poor. Many jobs were lost and bringing food on the table for their families became a difficult task. All these challenges were a result of depression which signifies desperateness.

Why is Jimmy Walker, Mayor of New York City, saying these words, “show pictures which will reinstate courage and hope in the hearts of the people”?

Jimmy walker said these words in the year 1929 to instill hope to the people of America who were already becoming hopeless because of the depression that hit America hard during that time. The stock market was crashing and business was collapsing. Joblessness was the order of the day and people were finding it hard to cope. Walker was encouraging leaders to instill hope in hope as the government was working on specific measures to revive the economy so that life could return to normalcy. He urged politicians and business leaders to be part of policymaking to restore the economy.

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The Great Depression: America 1929-1941 Questions and Answers

The Question and Answer section for The Great Depression: America 1929-1941 is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.

How did "The Great Depression" start?

Robert Mcelvaine describes the unequal distribution of consumable income as the primary cause for the depression. During the 1920s and 1930s, the economy largely depended on consumer spending. Since income was distributable among the few...

Why might some critics have seen Migrant Mother as an example of Lange’s “photographic detachment”? Give at least two reasons for the critics’ theory.

I'm sorry, I have no access to the title in question. Is there a direct link available to Endangered Dreams ?

The Great Depression began after the stock market crash of October 1929, which sent Wall Street into a panic and wiped out millions of investors.

Study Guide for The Great Depression: America 1929-1941

The Great Depression: America 1929-1941 study guide contains a biography of Robert S. Mcelvaine, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.

  • About The Great Depression: America 1929-1941
  • The Great Depression: America 1929-1941 Summary
  • Character List

Essays for The Great Depression: America 1929-1941

The Great Depression: America 1929-1941 literature essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Great Depression: America 1929-1941 by Robert S. Mcelvaine.

  • Fitzgerald's Prediction and the Great Depression

Wikipedia Entries for The Great Depression: America 1929-1941

  • Introduction

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Course: US history   >   Unit 7

  • The presidency of Herbert Hoover
  • The Great Depression

FDR and the Great Depression

  • The New Deal
  • Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt led the nation through the Great Depression.
  • His signature domestic legislation, the New Deal , expanded the role of the federal government in the nation’s economy in an effort to address the challenges of the Great Depression.
  • He was elected to the presidency four times, serving from March 1933 until his death in office in April 1945.

Roosevelt's life and long career

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Essays on the Great Depression

  • Ben S. Bernanke

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From the Nobel Prize–winning economist and former chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, a landmark book that provides vital lessons for understanding financial crises and their sometimes-catastrophic economic effects

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As chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve during the Global Financial Crisis, Ben Bernanke helped avert a greater financial disaster than the Great Depression. And he did so by drawing directly on what he had learned from years of studying the causes of the economic catastrophe of the 1930s—work for which he was later awarded the Nobel Prize. This influential work is collected in Essays on the Great Depression , an important account of the origins of the Depression and the economic lessons it teaches.

"Bernanke certainly knows the importance of well-functioning markets. In Essays on the Great Depression he wrote persuasively that runs on the banks and extensive defaults on loans reduced the efficiency of the financial sector, prevented it from doing its normal job in allocating resources, and contributed to the Depression severity. The Depression-era problems he studied are mirrored by similar issues today, and they need urgent attention."—Robert J. Shiller, New York Times

"Bernanke probably knows more about the Depression of the 1930s, about specific events and economic interpretations, than any other living person."—Michael Barone, U.S. News & World Report

"Tempting as it is to focus on President Herbert Hoover and the 1929 U.S. market crash, Bernanke explores conditions across dozens of countries—assessing where banking crises erupted, how deeply economic activity plummeted and which central banks made the right calls."—Carlos Lozada, Washington Post

"Having devoted much of his career to studying the causes of the Great Depression, Bernanke was the academic expert on how to prevent financial crises from spinning out of control and threatening the general economy. One line from his Essays on the Great Depression sounds especially prescient today: 'To the extent that bank panics interfere with normal flows of credit, they may affect the performance of the real economy.'"—Roger Lowenstein, New York Times Magazine

"Fortunately, before he became entangled in these restrictions [Bernanke] did edit and help write a book, Essays on the Great Depression . . . . Bernanke's motive was that understanding the depression would provide important clues to what can go wrong with capitalist market systems."—Samuel Brittan, Financial Times

"The financial crisis has made Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's book Essays on the Great Depression a hot seller. . . . Bernanke, a former Princeton University economist, is considered the pre-eminent living scholar of the Great Depression. He is practicing today what he preached in his book: Flood the system with money to avoid a depression."—Dennis Cauchon, USA Today

"When Ben Bernanke arrived at the Federal Reserve in February 2006 as the new chairman of the central bank, he had a copy of his 2001 book, Inflation Targeting: Lessons from the International Experience , tucked under his arm. Not literally, of course. He was hoping to convince his colleagues on the Federal Open Market Committee of the value of an explicit inflation target. Little did he know that less than two years later he'd be shelving Inflation Targeting and turning to Essays on the Great Depression , another of his books, for guidance. In his book of essays, Bernanke calls the Great Depression the 'Holy Grail of macroeconomics.' He writes that 'the experience of the 1930s continues to influence macroeconomists' beliefs, policy recommendations, and research agendas.'"—Caroline Baum, Bloomberg.com

"With some observers saying that the ongoing financial crisis could be the worst since the Great Depression, the greatest living expert on that period is getting the chance to apply its economic lessons. . . . In Essays on the Great Depression . . . [Bernanke] notes that understanding that period is the 'holy grail of macroeconomics.'"—Spencer Jakab, Dow Jones Newswires

"Bernanke is the master of applied microeconomics. Not only is he technically proficient but his ability to place his results in a larger macroeconomic context is unparalleled."—Mark Toma, Financial History Review

"This influential body of work is a significant contribution to our understanding the depth and persistence of the Great Depression. . . . This book will become a standard reference in the field of business cycle research."—Randall Kroszner, University of Chicago

"Bernanke's work has had a powerful impact on the economics profession, alerting macroeconomists to the advantages of historical analysis, and a number of important figures (James Hamilton, Steve Cecchetti, for example), inspired by his work, have followed him into the field. The nine essays form a remarkably coherent whole."—Barry Eichengreen, University of California, Berkeley, and author of Globalizing Capital: A History of the International Monetary System

"Collecting these essays together will provide a single source for students to find Bernanke's substantial contributions. . . . His papers demonstrate conclusively that the international view of the great depression has impressive explanatory power."—Peter Temin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Home — Essay Samples — History — Great Depression — The Start and End of the Great Depression in America


The Start and End of The Great Depression in America

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Published: Jul 17, 2018

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