The Great Depression: Rural America


Figure 1.--The Depression began in rural America a decade before the rest of the United States. And like the rest of the country, a combination of the Depressiin and World War II changed rural America for ever. Before the Depression the ruralm life style was different from that of the cities. The different clothes children wore was just one of the differences. After the War, rural Americans began to lead the same kinf if life style enjoyed by the rest of the country. We believe the photographer is Diorthea Lange, but we have not yet confirmed that.

The Depression changed the lives of people who lived throughout rural America. The Depression in rural America actually began a decade before the Great Depression. The United States experienced after World War I experienced recession (1918-19) followed by a severe depression (1920-21). Urban America quickly recovered and enjoyed a decade of economic expansion and growth. Rural America never recovered. And this was made even worse when the farmers on the Great Plains had to contend with a severe drought. Unappreciated by the pioneers that settled on the Great Planes after the Civil War, they were settling down on a fragile environmental system. The term eco-system had not yet entered the vocabulary. This was suddenly brought home by the dust storms and the new term Dust Bowl. The New Deal was particularly concerned about rural America. A majority of Americans now lived in cities, but there was still a very substantial farm population, much larger than is the case today. The New Seal included several programs to both assist rural Americans survive during the Depression as well as to try to correct the endemic farm problem. While the drought and resulting dust storms were the most visible problem, farmers experienced other problems, including insects, summer heat and winter cold. Mos farmers still did not have heat, light or indoor bathrooms as were now standard in the cities. Farm families raised most of their own food eggs and chickens, milk, meat from their own pigs and cows, and vegetables from carefully tended gardens. This put them at an advantage from many city families when th fathers lost their jobs--as long as they didn't lose their land. Tragically many farm families did, this include both farm owners and share croppers. Many farm families moved away. The best known are the Oakies hard hit by the the Dust storms, many of ho headed West. Many blacks share croppers headed north, part of the Great Migration which began after World War I. Some young men found government jobs building roads and bridges. Others found work with the CCC or WPA. One of the earliest New Deal efforts was the Agriculture Adjustment Act (1933) which was ultimately ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The Farm Security Administration (FSA) combined a range of disparate programs to assist farmers. Many of the AAA and FSA programs are controversial with economists still debating the impact. Some attempted to reform the free market. Other embraced collectivist approaches. Efforts to boost farm prices are especially controversial. One program which undeniably improved farm life and productivity was the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). This made farm life not only easier and safer, but American farmers vastly more productive. And efforts to improve farming methods also had an important impact. Ultimately it was the weather and Adolf Hitler who revived the fortunes of rural America. Normal rainfall patterns resumed allowing farmers who managed to keep their land to resume normal operations (1940). And Adolf Hitler by launching World War II created a vast demand for farm products with European and Asian agricultural production disrupted by the War.

Rural America

The New Deal was particularly concerned about rural America. A majority of Americans now lived in cities, but there was still a very substantial farm population, much larger than is the case today. And many lived on marginal farms. This included both share cropers as well as small holdings. Most farmers still did not have heat, light or indoor bathrooms as were now standard in the cities.

Depression Causes

The Depression in rural America actually began a decade before the Great Depression. The United States experienced after World War I experienced recession (1918-19) folloed by a severe depression (1920-21). Urban America quickly recovered and enjoyed a decade of economic expansion and growth. Rural America never recovered. And a depressed ruel sector meant that the American economy was vulnerble. Thus when the Stock Market crashed and the economy began to restrict. rural America was epecially vulnerable. And the subsequent drop in farm prices devetated rurl America. Mny farmers were already behind on their mortgages and with price declines they had no hope of keeping up payments or borrowing more money. And this only accentuated the economic spiral. Farmers unable to pay their mortgages put increasing pressure on banks, which were also troubled by defaults on loans to city residents. And this was made even worse when the farmers on the Great Plains had to contend with a severe drought. Unappreciated by the pioneers that settled on the Great Planes after the Civil War, they were settling down on a fragile environmental system. The term eco-system had not yet entered the vocabulary. This was suddenly brought home by the dust storms and the new term Dust Bowl. While the drought and resulting dust storms were the most visible problem, farmers experienced other problems, including insects, summer heat and winter cold. The econony spiraled down. A deprression in rural America meant that farmer could not aford to buy the products made by urban wokers like tractors, ther farm equioment, pumps, tools, and much more including range of consumer good. An unemployed workers could not aford to buy farm products. Farmers losing their land were forced into the cities, competing forjobs with unemployed city workers. Many farm families were forced to pack what they could fit into their Model-T or other car or truck and leve the land, in some cases farmed for generations by their families.

Impact

The Depression changed the lives of people who lived throughout rural America. Farm families raised most of their own food eggs and chickens, milk, meat from their own pigs and cows, and vegetables from carefully tended gardens. This put them at an advantage from many city families when th fathers lost their jobs--as long as they didn't lose their land. Tragically many farm families did, this include both farm owners and share croppers. Many farm families moved away. The best known are the Oakies hard hit by the the Dust storms, many of whom headed West. California was common destination because of rumors about jobs and opportunities. Many black share croppers headed north, part of the Great Migration which began after World War I.

New Deal Programs

The New Seal included several programs to both assist rural Americans survive during the Depression as well as to try to correct the endemic farm problem. Some young men found government jobs building roads and bridges. Others found work with the CCC or WPA. One of the earliest New Deal efforts was the Agriculture Adjustment Act (1933) which was ultimately ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The Farm Security Administration (FSA) combined a range of disparate programs to assist farmers. Many of the AAA and FSA programs are controversial with economists still debating the impact. Some attempted to reform the free market. Other embraced collectivist approaches. Efforts to boost farm prices are especially controversial. One program which undeniably improved farm life and productivity was the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). This made farm life not only easier and safer, but American farmers vastly more productive. And efforts to improve farming methods also had an important impact.

World War II

Ultimately it was the weather and Adolf Hitler who revived the fortunes of rural America. Normal rainfall patterns resumed allowing farmers who managed to keep their land to resume normal operations (1940). And Adolf Hitler by launching World War II created a vast demand for farm products with European and Asian agricultural production disrupted by the War. American farm production not only fed American armies, but those of its allies as well preventing famine and starvation in many countries that the NAZIs and Japanese militarists had reduced to starvation.







HBC







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Created: 12:56 AM 5/10/2012
pell checked: 1:32 AM 4/18/2013
Last updated: 1:32 AM 4/18/2013