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Social Effects of Great Depression - Part 2

Herbert Hoover

Social Effects of Great Depression - Part 2: The effects of the Great Depression on the people of America.

Part Two of the Social Effects of the Great Depression
The Social Effects of the Great Depression - Part 1 details subjects such as unemployment, debt, class separation, poverty, discrimination and homelessness. Part Two of the Social Effects of the Great Depression (1929 - 1941) continues with facts and information relating to Human Needs, Shanty Towns (Hoovervilles), Hobos, Education, Bread Lines, Soup Kitchens, Begging, Fertility Rates, Marriage, Divorce, Women, the Dust Bowl, Behavior Changes and Protests..

Social Effects of the Great Depression: Impact & Consequences
Discover how the terrible period in American history affected people socially:  how people lived, worked, related to each other, how they organized themselves to meet their basic needs and learned how to coped as members of the community. The devastating economic stagnation of the Great Depression had a dramatic change of many beliefs, customs, behaviors and lifestyles of ordinary Americans. It changed American society in relation to employment, education, health, living conditions, the quality of life and the impact of the economic crisis on individuals and their families.

Facts about Social Effects of Great Depression - Part 2
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Social Effects of Great Depression - Part 2.

Human Needs: The poverty stricken homeless people suffered severe deprivation of basic human needs, deprived of:

  • Shelter

  • Adequate food and nutrition

  • Sanitation facilities

  • Safe drinking water

  • Health

  • Education and information

Shanty Towns (Hoovervilles): Widespread homelessness led to the disastrous social effects of living in Shantytowns, nicknamed 'Hoovervilles' that  were built on unused or public land often on the outskirts of towns and cities. The homeless had no option but to live in squalid conditions in makeshift shacks that provided less than adequate shelter. Floors often consisted of dirt or clay, there was limited access to safe drinking water and totally inadequate sanitation facilities, latrines were dug in ditches. Refer to Shantytowns and Hoovervilles

Social Effects of Hoovervilles: The Hoovervilles provided a new type of community for poor, homeless people and their establishment led to unforeseen social effects, despite the terrible circumstances. In the large shantytowns the people established their own community government and even elected a 'mayor' as their leader to establish codes of behavior and settle any disputes.

Hobos: Between 1 - 2 million men and boys left their homes to search for any kind of employment all over the country. Many adopted the lifestyles of Hobos and 'riding the rails' across the nation. These were desperate, unemployed men who felt they were a burden and hindrance to their families. Others were simply unable to cope with the shame of their changed circumstances. More shanty towns, called 'Hobo Jungles' sprang up by most city railroad stations. 

Social Effects on Education: The lack of education was another of the social effects of the period. Young boys who had left home and who became hobos did not attend school or learn to read and write. Children living in shanty towns were also severely deprived of education. Schools closed as teachers were laid off and school hours were cut.

Social Effects of Bread Lines: The 'Bread Lines' emerged as another of the awful social effects of the era. Proud men and women were publically shamed as they queued in lines for free handouts of food, notably bread. (At the time a loaf of bread cost a nickel).

Bread lines were a common sight in most America cities during the 1930s and the need was so great that Bread Lines sometimes stretched over several blocks.

Social Effects of Soup Kitchens: Another demonstration of the social effects of the era were the emergence of Soup Kitchens. Soup kitchens provided food, generally soup and bread, to the hungry. Soup kitchens were financed by charities and wealthy individuals (Al Capone improved his image by financing a soup kitchen in New  York). As many as 3000 hungry people might be served at one soup kitchen in one day, totally dependent on the charity of others.

Begging: Starving and destitute Americans resorted to begging and their despair was conveyed in the lyrics of 1932 song by Bing Crosby called "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?".

Men vs Women: Women and men experienced the Great Depression differently. Men were traditionally socialized to consider themselves as breadwinners. When they were unable to support their families they felt like useless failures. Women, on the other hand, saw their roles as housewives enhanced as they juggled to make ends meet.

Social Effects of Fertility Rates: During the great Depression the US fertility rate, meaning the number of children born to women aged 15-44, declined by nearly 20%. The widespread poverty caused dramatic changes to family life as young couples put off having children. The Fertility Rates per 100,000 women aged 15-44 were 93.8 in 1928 but plummeted to 76.33 in 1933.

Marriage: Another reason for the fall in the birth rate was thet fewer couples could afford to marry. In 1929 the marriage rate was 10.14 per 1000 people. In 1932 the marriage rate had fallen to 7.87 per 1000 people.

Divorce: The divorce rate fell by 10% during the Great Depression. It was too expensive to pay the legal fees and support two households. A 1940 survey later revealed that 1.5 million married women had been abandoned by their husbands.

Women's Action Groups: During the Great Depression women began to organize into local groups in response to the high levels of poverty, homelessness and unemployment. Women protested against evictions, organized boycotts against stores that were charging inflated prices and picketed government relief offices for more unemployment benefits.

Social Effects of the Dust Bowl: A devastating drought hit the nation in 1932 and the prairie states witnessed great dust storms and the creation of the 'Dust Bowl'. 100 million acres of farming land was destroyed, 3 million farmers were adversely effected due to unemployment and many families became homeless. This led to a mass migration to California. John Steinbeck wrote "The Grapes of Wrath" about the social effects that people experienced due to the Dust Bowl.

Social Effects and Behavior Changes: The social effects of the Great Depression brought significant behavior changes triggered by fear, suspicion and desperate attempts to keep hold of jobs and deny access to their land.  There was mass employment, people were starving but many ordinary Americans turned their back on their plight of the dispossessed and homeless who had been forced into a nomadic existence. John Steinbeck describes this aspect of social effects in "The Grapes of Wrath" in which established citizens in California, frightened by the arrival of so many 'Okies' tried to prevent their entry into California established a border patrol, dubbed the "Bum Blockade," at major road and rail crossings and local police repeatedly burned down the shantytown camps of the migrants.

Protests: Behavior patterns changed as one of the other social effects of the era. Americans participated in Hunger Marches and 40,000 WW1 veterans and their families, referred to as the Bonus Army, congregated in Washington DC to lobby congress for early payment of the WW1 veterans’ bonuses. They were denied early payment, evicted from their camps and dispersed by the heavy handed treatment of the US Army under Douglas MacArthur by which over 1000 people suffered from tear gas inhalation.

US American History
1929-1945: Depression & WW2

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