What It Was Like To Go Looking For a Job During The Great Depression

By | March 11, 2016

During The Great Depression, banks failed, businesses closed, city streets were desolates, families lost their homes, and unemployment in the rose to nearly 25%. The images below of men and women desperately looking for jobs to feed their families tell the grim story of a time we wish to never happen again.

The Great Crash, New York, 1929
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Photo: Afp/AFP/Getty Images

The culmination of many years of economic instability happened when the stock market crashed on "Black Tuesday," October 29, 1929.

Road Sign, 1930s
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Photo: Haiku Deck

In the middle part of the US, when the depression occurred during the drought season, farmers quickly lost their lands and many became migrant workers. They travel around the country, hoping to find work for all members of the family in exchange for a meal or a place to sleep.

Migrant Worker Families
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Photo: Oakland Museum of California

Husbands and fathers travel great distances from their homes in search of any work that they could find.

Job Seekers Wait Outside An Employment Agency, 1932
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Photo: ephemeralnewyork | wordpress

Children With Signs, Appealing For A Job For Their Dad
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Photo: Greg Milz

Architects, bankers, engineers and educators suddenly found themselves queueing in long unemployment lines, competing for menial, basic jobs with pay that was barely enough to put food on their tables.

Men Out Of Work, At The Docks, 1934
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Photo: The Atlantic

Men who had defined themselves by taking care of their families, being the breadwinner, struggled with the emotional depression that came with the economic depression.

Job Hunters Advertising Their Skills, 1932
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Photo: Emaze

As men traveled farther and farther away from home looking for jobs, they are forced to find lodging in public housing or shelters, waking up to begin job hunting again the next morning.

Men In Public Housing, During a Job Search
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Photo: Morgan P

Husbands and fathers who had previously earned enough money to feed and clothe their families were forced to stand in bread lines to receive free food so their families would not starve.

Work Is What I Want And Not Charity
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Photo: Michigan League for Public Policy

In the early part of the Depression, President H. Hoover maintained that "it was up to state and local governments to pay for the creation of jobs for the people of America." He also believe local governments and private charities should be responsible providing aid to families out of work. Experts agree that this greatly contributed to the depth of the economic downturn.

Waiting In Line For Unemployment Benefits, San Francisco
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Photo: Wired

FDR campaigned in the 1932 election promising he would turn his attention to “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” He won by a landslide and took office on March 4, 1933. In his inaugural speech, he spoke the legendary phrase that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” At the time of his speech, nearly 15 million Americans were without work.

Man Opening Hotel Door, "30 Cent A Night' Hotel, Circa 1930
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Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images

FDR implemented the New Deal, using different programs to stimulate the economy and create jobs. He mandated a five-day "bank holiday" which, along with acts from Congress, helped stabilize the banking industry.

Unemployed Protesting, New York City Hall, July 15, 1931
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Photo: Keystone-france/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images

The issue of the high rate of unemployment was next on FDR's list. The New Deal created programs offering work relief to those who couldn't find jobs. By 1936, Americans were slowly returning back to work.

Men Wear Signs Stating Their Professions, Offering To Work For One Dollar Per Week, November 8, 1930
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Photo: Keystone-france/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images

One of the programs that FDR created in 1933 was the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program for unmarried young men aged 17 - 28 who needed employment during the Great Depression. Over the nine years it was in place, the CCC employed over 3 million young men, providing them with shelter, clothing, and food and paying them $30 per month, requiring that they send $25 of their wage back to their families to help at home.

Civilan Conservation Corps, 1935
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Photo: Texas Park and Wildlife

While there's no consensus about the exact end of the Great Depression among economic historians, the unemployment rate remained high for the rest of the 1930s, even as the banking crisis eased up. One major event, however, shifted the focus of the country away from the Great Depression. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, millions of men and women would join the work force as the US entered World War II.

Attack On Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941
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Photo: Keystone-france/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images

H/T Allday