The effects of the 1929 financial crash had been felt by all races for a decade; young and old, male and female (poverty and deprivation doesn’t discriminate). Banks had failed and people lost all their savings; imports and exports dried up, manufacturing failed. There was no money and no market and unemployment soared: no jobs. Millions lost everything they had: businesses, homes, farms, personal possessions. (About the farms I mentioned earlier: farmers who were able to keep their land grew their own food but they had no money because there was no market to sell what they produced).
I’m incapable of adequately describing conditions of the time but it would do you good to read for yourself a history of the Great Depression and especially President Roosevelt’s Inaugural Address of March 4, 1933 (much of it reminds me of today’s political/big business climate). Although I was a young child, born in 1932, the gloom and darkness of that era left an impression on me that lasts to this day in 2005.
Since taking office in 1933, President Roosevelt had moved Congress into passing such programs as the National Recovery Act, Agricultural Adjustment Act, National Youth Administration, National Labor Relations Act, Social Security Act and forming the TVA, CCC, and WPA. Some of the President’s ideas didn’t work out very well but others accomplished needed reforms in that time and still benefit us today despite continuous political pressures to abolish or weaken them (TVA and Social Security for example).
He was reelected President for his second term in 1936. Here is an excerpt from his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1937: "Our progress out of the depression is obvious … By using the new materials of social justice we have undertaken to erect on the old foundations a more enduring structure for the better use of future generations."
By 1939 President Roosevelt’s New Deal plans for recovery were moving along but there was still much to be done.
His economic recovery was soon to get some unwanted help. Remember Adolph Hitler? The Adolph Hitler that was elected Chancellor of Germany in 1933, the same year that President Roosevelt took his first oath of office and I was five months old, all mentioned on my first page?
Well, in 1939 I became seven, President Roosevelt was nearing the end of his second term and Hitler’s mad war machine was marching across Europe. I didn’t know anything about our economic recovery and the coming World War but I remember some events of that time which were important to a seven year old.
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By 1939 statistics show there was more work, better wages, and improved living conditions for millions. America had come a long way since the crash of 1929.
Statistics are a good indication of progress but a first-hand illustration is even better. Dad told a story that exemplifies the work and wage improvement for carpenters.
Dad was working on a large government project. He said they would hire anyone who claimed to be a carpenter and there were many, many of them. One young man who hired in as a carpenter set up two saw horses next to a pile of long two-by-fours. He was busily sawing these two-by-fours into twelve-inch blocks. A foreman watched as the young man cut block after block and the pile grew larger and larger. Finally the foreman walked up to the man and asked what he was making? The young man didn't miss a stroke as he replied, "A dollar and a quarter an hour" and kept right on sawing.
At the beginning of this story dad was making ten cents an hour setting power poles for electric lines. Now he was making a dollar twenty-five an hour as a carpenter. It had been a long, hard road for dad’s generation. Think of what they had experienced: