Adult men experienced severe emotional distress from being out of work. They especially were ashamed of being unemployed, of their inability to meet the needs of their families, and the way in which unemployment challenged their masculinity.
African Americans suffered disproportionately with more unemployment, homelessness, malnutrition, and disease than most whites. Unemployed whites began competing for jobs traditionally taken by African American workers and many whites demanded that all blacks be dismissed from their jobs so that they could be given to white workers.
Hispanic workers, especially those in the Southwest, suffered more severe discrimination and unemployment during the Depression. Hispanics were excluded from most relief roles, offered fewer benefits than white workers, had no access to American schools, and some were rounded up and transported back to Mexico. Consequently, both African American and Hispanic rural laborers began to migrate to larger cities for jobs where they lived in urban poverty.
Asian Americans were forced to deal with increased discrimination and economic marginalization that stemmed from longstanding patterns, especially in the agricultural economies of California.
While economic forces pushed many women into the workforce during the Depression, women failed to become more economically, socially, or professionally independent during the era.
Families experienced great hardships, foremost among them malnutrition and homelessness. People in both rural and urban America lost their homes and took to the road. Both the young and old began “hoboing” on freight cars. When they could no longer move, homeless families constructed shantytowns of makeshift shacks fashioned from abandoned crates, wood scraps, and flattened tin cans. Rural Americans suffered especially. Farm incomes decreased by as much as 60 percent, one-third of all farmers lost their land, and the drought natural disaster known as the Dust Bowl stimulated a massive migration of farmers to the American West. The bottom line effect of all these dislocations was the erosion of the strength that held many American families together.
Possible conclusion: As Dr. Brinkley concludes, while Americans and the American family suffered greatly during the Great Depression, the “American way of life” was not destroyed. Indeed, the Depression confirmed many traditional values in American society, as well as reinforced many traditional goals.
Radio. Access to radio programming changed many American families and neighborhoods, as they began to center their lives around radio programs they listened to in their homes and communities. Families gathered together to listen to regular programs; friends gathered on the street, front porches, and backyards to listen to the broadcasts. Although some political and social programs were aired, the most popular shows provided Depression-era society with dramatic and often humorous stories of adventure and escape. Also popular were soap operas, sporting events, music concerts, current events, and the Academy Awards. Since most shows were broadcast in front of live audiences, people flocked to the studios to watch them.
Movies. By the mid-1930s, Americans flocked to the theaters to see many entertainment options that provided an escape from the realities of the Depression. Most Hollywood-produced films avoided controversy during this time and produced musicals, “screwball” comedies, animated cartoons with heroic animal characters, fantasies, and novel adaptations.
Popular Literature. While controversy was largely absent from radio and movie productions, the controversial social and political voices of the Depression were often found in the popular literature that emerged from the 1930s. Some writers explored the hardships of farm families and of the Dust Bowl migrants, exposed the horrors of poverty throughout the nation, criticized the excesses of capitalism, and exposed the many avenues of social injustice. Two of the most popular novels of the era, however, were romantic sagas set in different historical eras Gone with the Wind and Anthony Adverse.
Journalism. Most of the leading magazines shunned political topics and instead focused on fashion, arts, movies, and movie stars. The most popular journal, Life magazine, was famous for its photography of famous people, impressive public projects, majestic landscapes, sporting, and theater events.
Possible conclusion: While political and social controversy was not absent from radio, film, literature, and journals, it was not what attracted American audiences. Instead, the most popular cultural attractions from the Depression era were shaped by the public’s desire to escape from the psychological, social, and economic hardships of the 1930s.
The groups. The American Communist Party was the most influential left-wing group during the 1930s. Long a critic of American capitalism, during the Depression it began to form loose alliances with various “progressive” groups in American society, as well as praise various aspects of the New Deal. By the mid-1950s, it boasted the highest membership in its history 100,000 Americans. The Party was supported by the Popular Front, an umbrella coalition of “antifascist” groups, of which the Community Party was the most influential. The Socialist Party of America also enjoyed some membership increases in the early 1930s especially in terms of its work with the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, a biracial coalition of sharecroppers and tenant farmers who demanded economic reform.
Attraction. The Popular Front attracted intellectuals who sought camaraderie and wanted an escape from the lonely, detached, alienating society of the 1920s. The Communist Party was attractive to union members and organizers, some of the unemployed who favored organizing, and those few whites (as well as nonwhites) who took a stand for racial justice.
Failure. Memories of the Red Scare were not far from the minds of many Americans. During the Red baiting of the 1920s, many Americans became fearful and suspicious of any radical elements in American society especially those with communist and socialist leanings. At the federal, state, and local governmental levels, various officials tried to stamp out any communist influence.
Possible conclusion: While membership in these radical groups increased throughout most of the 1930s, none of them was ever successful in establishing either socialism or communism as a major force in American politics, or in capturing the hearts and minds of the American public. In the end, the forces of anti-radicalism were stronger than the forces of radicalism.