Sample Research Paper: The Effects of The Great Depression
The 1920s was known as the “roaring twenties”—a period characterized by prosperity, parties, and fast-paced technological developments. It was a time characterized by cultural and economic highs. However, this period was followed by what is arguably the lowest point in world history when economies crashed and poverty spread in every country, including the United States—the Great Depression. The far-reaching economic depression started in 1929 after the stock market crash of 1929 and continued on until 1939 just before the start of World War II. The Great Depression was characterized by widespread unemployment, decline in output and GDPs, price deflation, which led to homelessness, poverty, and malnutrition that caused people to resort to vices. The Great Depression had widespread, lasting effects. For this history essay , the author will focus on discussing the various effects of the Great Depression on the United States. Although the Great Depression is a major economic recession, its effects encompass the economy, politics, and the culture of the United States.
Causes Of The Great Depression
The Great Depression spanned a decade of economic and political turmoil. Experts believe that the cause of this devastating economic recession is not singular, nor is it sudden. There are four key factors that experts credit to have triggered the Great Depression: (1) the stock market crash of 1929, (2) bank panics and failures, (3) the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, and (4) oversupply and overproduction problems.
Prior to the stock market crash of 1929, the stock market values were at an extreme high. Fueled by technological and industrial developments , the market went through a fast-paced expansion. The market expansion encouraged the public to invest their assets in savings in securities. The public withdrew liquid assets as well as mortgaged their homes and cars to fund investments in the stock market. This practice was deemed precarious and only sustainable as long as the market prices stayed high or increased (Romer 2021). So, when the prices started to decline, people hurried to sell their shares to salvage their losses. With this, the stock market collapsed.
The US stock market crash of 1929 is identified as the triggering event of the Great Depression. The insecure moves made by the public to fund shares through loans meant that they also owed money from banks on top of losing some of their money in the stock market. These led to a money supply collapse, which the Federal Reserve did not support with a cash injection, thereby allowing multiple banks to fail (Segal 2022). The Federal Reserve’s failure to support the market was considered a major mistake that led to the recession.
The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act is an attempt by the Hoover administration to protect the economy by keeping prices and wages high. He also banned immigration to prevent low-skilled migrants from saturating the labor market. The result, however, was an increase in the costs of US products, which only discouraged foreign countries from buying American-made goods (Segal 2022). On top of this, prices of goods and services went up for Americans as well such that they, too, were unable to afford their basic needs (Segal 2022). Inevitably, the implementation of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act led to worse economic conditions that resulted in lower wages and unemployment. With foreign trade and domestic consumption decreasing, US companies found themselves in a surplus of manufactured goods, which led to major losses and bankruptcies. According to Segel, this is what brought the US economy from a recession to a depression (2022). Evidently, the Great Depression was primarily caused by decision errors made by the government and its branches. Unfortunately, these errors affected not just businesses but, the citizens, and rippled throughout the world as well.
Effects of the Great Depression
The Great Depression was the result of a combination of factors and poor decisions and ineffective government interventions. As Segel (2022) expounded, the recession sparked by the 1929 stock market crash worsened into a depression that not only affected the economy but also the cultural and social makeup of the United States.
Effects Of The Great Depression on the US
One of the most evident effects of the Great Depression is the suffering it brought to the people, effectively destroying the American dream . Millions of workers lost their jobs during this period as the unemployment rate reached 24.9% in 1933 (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum n.d.). Along with this, they were evicted from their homes and could not afford their basic needs. Families found themselves living on the streets, sheltering themselves with scraps against the weather. They also depended on soup kitchens for food (FDR Presidential Library and Museum n.d.). Too many people depended on charity that the lines to soup kitchens stretched far. These charitable actions became a common occurrence since then—a staple of US society up until today.
With such extreme challenges, some scholars noted that despite the strain the depression put on families, many families ended up becoming stronger. Some families stuck together in order to fend for themselves. However, other families also crumbled as men who struggled to find work gave up and abandoned their families. These men became what is now known as “hoboes,” who lived as transients, sleeping in the streets or homeless shelters and relying on charity for sustenance (FDR Presidential Library and Museum n.d.). As men left their families, women and children were left to fend for themselves in a time when women were not afforded much rights. Women did everything they could to manage meager budgets. Some women also found work as schoolteachers but they received less in compensation than men, so even with work, they struggled to make ends meet. Like the women, children also found themselves going to work to help provide for their families. Schools closed as a result of reduced tax revenues to fund them, so children were malnourished and forced to work in substandard conditions.
Living conditions were indeed terrible during the Great Depression. Morale was low, as men gave up after years of failing to find work instead of becoming hoboes. Meanwhile, women struggled to work and sometimes still died of hunger for refusing to line up in soup kitchens, and children suffered from malnutrition and terrible working conditions. The Great Depression had an immense impact on the psyche of Americans at the time as well. Many Americans who had to turn to charity during this period did so with much hesitation. With Puritan influence on American culture still strong in them, Americans prided themselves on working hard and felt shamed for having to ask for welfare. Having to rely on welfare put an added burden on their mental health that suicide rates increased (Khan 2021). Domestic violence also grew as couples struggled to provide for their families. Scholars also cite that the habit of frugality—of penny-pinching and saving—resulting from the stigma of poverty became deeply ingrained in the generation of Americans who grew up during the Great Depression.
Naturally, the struggles of the people also had an impact on the political climate of the time. As people struggled to make ends meet and find work, racism and sexism emerged. People of color already struggled with lower wages and discrimination prior to the Great Depression. However, this further worsened as whites blamed people of color for the scarcity of jobs. Racial violence increased, especially toward Black people, while Mexican Americans were forced to be deported (Romer 2021). The manifestations of racism of today are no different from the manifestations from this period as people of color are wrongly blamed for societal problems that also affect them. However, women, too, became victims of discrimination. Many men demanded that married women not be hired as their jobs should go to men instead (Romer 2021). Thus, married women also struggled to find jobs to support their families. For minorities, the Great Depression was not only a period of economic struggle but also of heightened discrimination, making the period even harder.
Despite these intense struggles, the Great Depression also brought about some positive changes. In particular, the Great Depression brought about the establishment of labor unions and an improved welfare state. Labor unions were created to protect workers from layoffs and to establish better working conditions (Romer 2021). Furthermore, the Social Security Act was also established to help assist unemployed individuals and the elderly who can no longer work (Romer 2021). Indeed, the US government learned significantly from the errors committed that led to and worsened the Great Depression. These led to efforts to improve the regulation of the economy through the establishment of the Securities and Exchange Commission and other acts that would prevent insecure scenarios like the one that led to the stock market collapse of 1929.
There were also changes in American culture, particularly pop culture. With so much suffering, people turned to entertainment for respite. The film industry rose to great heights during the Great Depression and despite their financial struggles, many Americans still went to see the movies (Khan 2021). Radio also became a popular past-time. Both of these media not only became forms of entertainment but also tools for conveying political messages. Radio, in particular, was used by President Roosevelt to communicate messages of hope to Americans as he informed them of new policies (Khan 2021). Meanwhile, film, later on, became a tool for communicating messages of patriotism and recruiting soldiers for World War II (Khan 2021). Besides these, the Great Depression saw the rise of art forms that documented and reflected the plight of Americans—swing jazz, folk music, blues, gospel, and even photography. These forms of art became deeply ingrained in American culture that many of the elements that the new generation enjoys today can find their roots in these cultural developments from the Great Depression.
Impact of the Great Depression on the Rest of the World
The impact of the Great Depression also extended to the rest of the world. Europe also struggled with low unemployment and GDP, resulting in lower standards of living as well (Romer 2021). The impact of the depression on European countries was closely similar to that of the United States. The reduction in international trade hurt all countries, but most especially those whose economies relied heavily on foreign trade. As in the US, countries whose GDPs decreased as a result of the Great Depression found themselves with low employment rates, higher rates of poverty, and unable to fund welfare for citizens (Pelz 2016). On top of these, inflation rose to unprecedented heights throughout Europe and continued to do so as demand for basic commodities decreased due to poverty.
However, one major difference is that the Great Depression paved the way for the rise of totalitarianism in many European countries, such as Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Italian Fascism (Pelz 2016). The Great Depression destroyed people’s belief in the existing economic systems, leading them to believe in the promises of prosperity and order of a new government system. In the US, many Americans also became attracted to the notion of socialism.
The Great Depression was a difficult time for people of all demographics across the globe. The US economy plummeted for more than a decade, leaving Americans suffering in its wake. The decade-long depression affected not just the US economy, however. As one of the most affluent economies after World War I , the plummeting of the US economy also had profound adverse impacts on the world economy. The effects of the Great Depression were, of course, not limited to the economy. People lost their jobs and homes, and this led to poverty, hopelessness, and vices. The Great Depression affected people’s quality of life and the way they behaved. With massive poverty and long-term suffering, the fabric of US culture and society was forever changed. Americans’ experiences during this period shaped the way they thought and behaved that it affected even the generations that came after the depression. Although the Great Depression led to many sufferings, it eventually became a learning opportunity as world governments learned better ways to secure the economy to prevent another depression. The Great Depression also brought out positive human qualities, such as kindness, which not only led to extensive charity systems but also the establishment of labor unions and social welfare systems that would protect workers from inhumane working conditions and layoffs and provide financial assistance in the case of sudden unemployment.
Calvin, Patricia. 2000. “The Great Depression in Europe, 1929-39.” History Today. September 2000. https://www.historytoday.com/archive/great-depression-europe-1929-39
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. N.d. “Great Depression Facts.” Accessed May 18, 2022. https://www.fdrlibrary.org/great-depression-facts
Khan, Israr. 2021. “Cultural and Social Effects of the Great Depression on American Life.” Medium. March 13, 2021. https://medium.com/lessons-from-history/cultural-and-social-effects-of-the-great-depression-c3e5bf341e66#
Pelz, William, A. 2016. “Economic Collapse and the Rise of Fascism, 1920-33.” In A People’s History of Modern Europe, 127-141. Pluto Press.
Romer, Christina, D. 2021. “Great Depression.” Encyclopedia Britannica. October 11, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/event/Great-Depression
Segal, Troy. 2022. “What Was The Great Depression?” Investopedia. April 5, 2022. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/great_depression.asp#toc-mistakes-by-the-young-federal-reserve