Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Great Depression

Since the economic downturn there has been much written about the depression of the 1930’s, as if there were some connection to today’s Recession. But those born after the Great Depression—the majority of Americans--have no idea of what it was really like.

The unemployment rate was three times what it is today. There were bread lines and suicides. Fathers couldn’t support their families and had to split up their children to live with different relatives--who were also suffering. Or they were among the thousands of homeless families housed in hundreds of miserable makeshift camps around the country. Called “Hoovervilles,” they were named after President Herbert Hoover, who was widely blamed for the depression.

My mother worked for Cleveland’s’ Engineering Department. But the city of Cleveland was so broke it  paid their employees with “script,” which was as useless to pay for food as Monopoly money. When I was six years old my mother sent me into grocery store after grocery store to ask if they took script, while she waited in the car at the curb. When I finally got a “yes” she would go in and do the grocery shopping.

But there was an extraordinary camaraderie in the country. Unlike today, with the huge income gaps between the rich and middle class—not to mention the poor—everyone was in the same boat which unified the country. There wasn’t today’s underlying anger and bitter political conflict. And potatoes were a penny a pound!

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