There is an old saying:
“You can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”My grandparents wore shoes, with cardboard-patched holes ...
My grandparents grew up and lived through the Great Depression of the 1930's. When I was a kid, I heard lots of stories of how hard it was to survive during those long difficult years, in poverty-stricken rural Midwest. Odd jobs, seasonal farm work, plus getting by raising chickens and a garden, if you were lucky. You see, there was next-to-no safety-net back then. Life was hard. A lot of people died young then, for lack of a decent diet or decent health care, or both.
As a kid, I thought of myself as growing up "poor" -- at least until I grasped the meaning of those tales from my grandparents, about what "being poor" was really like. Not only were good jobs scarce as silver, full stomachs were as rare as rain.
In those times of wide-spread scarcity, a day's meal would often consist of Soup Surprise, made from local plants and herbs -- dandelion greens, wild rhubarb, or okra, or the occasional wild asparagus; throw in an old chicken-bone, some lard, and maybe a few choice spices for favor. Viola! another day's meal is served, Yumm! Corn bread biscuits if your were really living large. God help you when the winter weather struck, if your family found itself without a hog, or several chickens, to slaughter. Or a supply of venison from the autumn hunt.
Those lean-day stories of my grandma, had a way making the stretch-the-paycheck meals of "franks, beans and rice" of my childhood, seem like verifiable feasts. You see, I was rarely hungry, as poor as we were in the 70's. My dad's Unemployment Insurance checks always seemed to make ends just-barely meet. Government cheese is not that bad, once you get used to the rubbery texture.
In those hard days of the Great Depression however -- Unemployment Insurance checks had yet to be invented; Government Surplus handouts were still a distant ideal -- and the rural elderly then were very dependent on their kids, or their nieces and nephews -- if they were to survive, if they were lucky. Poverty, illness, and early deaths were common. Making it to 70 made you virtually ancient. Most didn't. Living in poverty will exact a toll on a person. Living to 50 was considered a ripe old age.
If you could have afforded the Big City newspaper then, these would be among the headlines and stats you'd have read:
The Social Studies Help Center
Headlines of 1932
U.S STEEL LAYS OFF ANOTHER 10,000
GENERAL MOTORS STOCK DOWN FROM $500 A SHARE TO $10 A SHARE
CHICAGO TEACHERS FEED 11,000 HUNGRY CHILDREN
IOWA CORN WAY DOWN IN PRICE
SALE-SALE-SALE SUITS AND COATS FOR $15
KENTUCKY COAL MINERS FOUND LIVING ON DANDELIONS
N.Y.C. COPS TO CARRY LIST OF CHARITIES TO DIRECT THE HELPLESS
110 CHILDREN IN N.Y.C. DIE FROM MALNUTRITION
Some Interesting Statistics
National Income: 1929 -- $81 billion
Business Failures: 1929-32 -- 85,000
Banks: 1929-32 - 9,000 failures and 9,000,000 accounts wiped out
Per capita income: 1929 -- $681
1932 -- $495
Weekly income of a stenographer: 1929 -- $45
1932 -- $16
How did the Great Depression affect the lives and dreams of those that lived through it?
I. The Great Depression
A. What made life so hard during the Great Depression?
4. Destruction of families
5. Farm losses
Social Studies help for American History, Economics and AP Government.
In the depth of this Great Depression, both economic depression and severely depressed optimism, something happened. An Election happened. And this change in leadership, led eventually to FDR's New Deal happening.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, (FDR) actually worked for changes that made working Americans lives better. FDR was a beacon of hope, in a nation where hope was as scarce, as a bank with money to lend.
There is a modern-day saying:
For the want of the price, of tea and a slice, the old man died ...-- Pink Floyd -- Us and Them Lyrics
My grandparents did whatever they could to beg, borrow, or forage, that price of tea and slice.
My grandparents who grew up and lived through the Great Depression, were big fans of FDR. Despite all the day-to-day hardships of those dismal days -- FDR had a way to inspire hope. Hope in a better future. Hope that someone was in Washington, fighting for the 'working man' ... fighting for the 'little guy' adrift in a sea of stock scams, home foreclosures, and savings defaults. Hope because FDR had an actual Jobs Plan, where those who needed a job, could find a job.
No BS, but actual help for those in need. Real hope delivered in weekly radio chats with the country. Providing a vision of what life can yet be, giving a person the guts and fortitude to push through, and see this journey to its end.
Wherever our common human journeys may ultimately lead ...
by Nick Taylor, NYTimes.com
President Herbert Hoover, a Republican and former Commerce secretary, believed the government should monitor the economy and encourage counter-cyclical spending to ease downturns, but not directly intervene. As the jobless population grew, he resisted calls from Congress, governors, and mayors to combat unemployment by financing public service jobs. He encouraged the creation of such jobs, but said it was up to state and local governments to pay for them. He also believed that relieving the suffering of the unemployed was solely up to local governments and private charities.
By 1932 the . Thousands of banks and businesses had failed. Millions were homeless. Men (and women) returned home from fruitless job hunts to find their dwellings padlocked and their possessions and families turned into the street. Many drifted from town to town looking for non-existent jobs. Many more lived at the edges of cities in makeshift shantytowns their residents derisively called Hoovervilles. People foraged in dumps and garbage cans for food.
The presidential campaign of 1932 was run against the backdrop of the Depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the Democratic nomination and campaigned on a platform of attention to “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” Hoover continued to insist it was not the government’s job to address the growing social crisis. Roosevelt won in a landslide. He took office on March 4, 1933, with the declaration that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Historians say Frances Perkins was the 'little bird' in Franklin's ear, pushing him forward to do the right thing. Even when the "right thing" was often very hard to do.
Social Security Pioneers -- Frances Perkins
In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt appointed Ms. Perkins as his Secretary of Labor, a position she held for twelve years, longer than any other Secretary of Labor and making her the first woman to hold a cabinet position in the United States.
As Secretary of Labor she played a key role writing New Deal legislation, including minimum wage laws. However, her most important contribution came in 1934 as chairwoman of the President's Committee on Economic Security. In this position she was involved in all aspects of the reports and hearings that ultimately resulted in the Social Security Act of 1935.
And Frances Perkins was not above working the airways of the day, to get her cause into the hearts and minds of the many ...
by Honorable Frances Perkins -- National Radio Address delivered Feb 25, 1935
Among the objectives of that reconstruction, President Roosevelt in his message of June 8, 1934, to the Congress placed "the security of the men, women and children of the Nation first." He went on to suggest the social insurances with which European countries have had a long and favorable experience as one means of providing safeguards against "misfortunes which cannot be wholly eliminated in this man-made world of ours."
It may come as a surprise to many of us that we in this country should be so far behind Europe in providing our citizens with those safeguards which assure a decent standard of living in both good times and bad, but the reasons are not far to seek. We are much younger than our European neighbors. Our abundant pioneer days are not very far behind us. With unlimited opportunities, in those days, for the individual who wished to take advantage of them, dependency seemed a reflection on the individual himself, rather than the result of social or economic conditions. There seemed little need for any systematic organized plan, such as has now become necessary.
It [h]as taken the rapid industrialization of the last few decades, with its mass-production methods, to teach us that a man might become a victim of circumstances far beyond his control, and finally it "took a depression to dramatize for us the appalling insecurity of the great mass of the population, and to stimulate interest in social insurance in the United States." We have come to learn that the large majority of our citizens must have protection against the loss of income due to unemployment, old age, death of the breadwinners and disabling accident and illness, not only on humanitarian grounds, but in the interest of our National welfare. If we are to maintain a healthy economy and thriving production, we need to maintain the standard of living of the lower income groups in our population who constitute 90 per cent of our purchasing power.
Although Roosevelt knew the fledgling Social Security Program had its limitations -- he also knew it was much better than the alternative: abject poverty and widespread human misery.
by John Hardman -- Poverty & Prejudice: Social Security at the Crossroads
Ethics of Development in a Global Environment (EDGE) -- July 26, 1999
[...] To Roosevelt, these limitations on the programs were compromises to ensure that the Act was passed President Roosevelt stated upon signing Social Security Act:
"We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age."When congress passed the Social Security Act, the most pressing problems were double-digit unemployment and pervasive poverty. "Most families were struggling just to put food on the table and pay the rent; retirement saving was an unaffordable luxury." While the Social Security Act slightly affected most of the population in 1935, it began a program that has lasted for 64 years. Although its origins were initially quite modest, Social Security today is one of the largest domestic programs administered by the U.S. government. Millions of people depend on Social Security to protect them in their old age. "Without Social Security, the incomes of approximately 16 million people -- about half of the retirees -- would fall below official poverty thresholds."
While the Social Security program is very complex and deals with more than 6 million employers, tens of millions of beneficiaries, and over 100 million taxpayers, its administrative costs are very low -- roughly 1 percent of retirement and survivor pension payments -- well below those of private pension and insurance plans. The average earnings of Social Security in 1998 were just under $28,000. The benefit that was paid to a worker who retired at the age of 62 whose earnings placed him at the same relative position in the earnings distribution in every year of a thirty-five year career would by $780 per month.
Hope is an ephemeral thing. One week you have it, the next week you don't. So much can hinge on your "sense of security" ... for yourself, for your family.
My grandpa scrabbled together some traveling funds to move to the industrial north. That was his ticket out of
hopelessness Joblessness. That was his hope of finding a back-breaking, dangerous, smokey job in the steel mills, and eventually on the assembly line -- all to make $10, maybe $20 a week.
Eventually he found it. A meager paycheck. Half of which would be mailed back to homestead, to the rural kinfolk left behind. Where that meager money was a godsend. Until they could scrabble together the funds to make their way northward too.
Life was hard for many during the years of Great Depression, for year upon toilsome, weary year -- all thanks to a Wall Street too full of itself for its own good, too full of reckless, scamming greed. ... My how times change, eh? Wall Street moguls are the paragons of "American job creation" now, are they not?
Many Americans, given the decade we just lived through, would say "not."
Alliance for Retired Americans Blog -- 10/26/2011
This morning she said, “I’m one of the people who relies on Social Security to take care of myself. … Without Social Security, I would probably be homeless.”
A new report came out yesterday outlining the importance of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to residents in South Carolina’s 6th District and for the state’s economy.
Turns out, these three programs provide benefits to 1 out of every 5 residents and contribute $4.2 billion per year to South Carolina's 6th district economy alone.
Without Social Security, the elderly poverty rate in South Carolina would increase from 1 out of 9 (11 percent) to half of all (50.7 percent) residents.
FOR SOUTH CAROLINA’S 6th DISTRICT AND ALL OF AMERICA (pdf)
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid Work
-- October 2011 -- Strengthen Social Security ... Don't Cut it.
Social Security has a $2.7 trillion surplus today, which is projected to grow to $3.7 trillion by 2022. And Social Security does not, and, by law, cannot add a penny to the federal deficit. Therefore, it should not even be under consideration by the Supercommittee.
Why do we have Social Security anyways?
Because Social Security WORKS -- works to protect our common humanity -- especially when governments, and political parties, and economic systems -- somehow FAIL to do so ... to look out for and protect the working men and working women, who's main goal in life is to provide for the ones they love. And then perhaps, live out their journey's end, with some dignity and hopefully an unshakeable "sense of security."
Just ask my grandparents ... god rest their hard-working, money-saving, Social Security-assisted, souls.
And thank those brave visionaries, who gave them the confidence -- to just keep trying! ... even at some of their darkest hours.
We need to Defend Social Security -- NOT De-fund Social Security!
2:40 PM PT (Roger Fox): Todays other Diaries in thr SSD blogathon:
SS grew from the Wisconsin Idea
The 'greatest retirement crisis' in history looms large
Welcome to the Daily Kos Social Security Defenders Blogathon