The Way I See It Today: Great Depression, Mancession….Not Much Has Changed, Has It??


(Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

Today, I’m reading American Experience:  Working In America by Catherine Reef.  As the title suggests, work and what it means to be American are forever intertwined, sometimes inexplicably, other times (and more often than not), plainly and clearly (and darkly, depending upon who you ask). 


While  reading a chapter on the Great Depression, I came across this passage, which was an anonymous letter to FDR in 1936 from a 12-year-old boy:

I’m a boy of 12 years…My father hasn’t worked for 5 months. He went plenty of times to relief, he filled out application. [sic]  They won’t give us anything. I don’t know why….We haven’t paid 4 months rent, Everyday the landlord rings the door bell, we don’t open the door for him.  We are afraid that will be put out, been put out before, and don’t want to happen again.  We haven’t paid the gas bill, and the electric bill, haven’t paid grocery bill for 3 months.  My brother goes to Lane Tech High School.  he’s eighteen years old, hasn’t gone to school for 2 weeks because he got no carfare.  I have a sister she’s twenty years, she can’t find work.  My father, he staying home.  All the time he’s crying because he can’t find work.  I told him why are you crying daddy, and daddy said why shouldn’t I cry when there is nothing in the house.  I feel sorry for him.  That night I couldn’t sleep. …Were [sic] American citizens and were born in Chicago, Ill. and I don’t know why they don’t help us….” 

 — From Down and Out in the Great Depression (McElvaine, ed., p 117)

Hmmmm….. “I don’t know why they don’t help us…”

Powerful words from a precocious 12-year old boy from my hometown almost 75 years ago.

I wonder what an average 12-year-old (boy or girl) in 2010, forced to watch his unemployed father (remember, this is a Mancession, although plenty of men lost their jobs during the Great Depression) or mother attempt to stave off the sharks, wolves and vultures would say if I asked him if he or she felt that the government was doing all it could to help them stay above water? 

Do you think would his/her response be any different from the boy’s from 1936?  Probably not.

And that 12-year-old may be insightful enough to offer concrete reasons in support of his answer, given his access to the Internet and the 24/7/365 news cycle….

Puts a little something on your mind, doesn’t it?

And for a country that purports to value hard work, earning an honest living, and being productive, why is it so hard for America’s best and brightest to find sustainable, meaningful and proactive ways to get people back to work?  Why are we dragging our feet on this? Shouldn’t this be our first priority?

And why must it require that people in crisis jump through endless hoops of fire and brimstone just to get the level and type of transitional assistance that can help them maintain a decent standard of living for themselves and their families?  Do we really want people in need to be able to do what is necessary to stabilize their living situation?  Or do we secretly delight in scapegoating and shaming others who have fallen on hard times so that we can make ourselves feel better? 

And why do I feel like, when it’s all said and done, that Americans just don’t give a damn about your average American worker?  If we did, someone please explain to me why November 2nd went the way that it did. 

It all seems so simple, but ask yourself…if a child can get it, why in the heck can’t we??

(UPDATE, May 13, 2011:  At the end of April 2011, the national, seasonally adjusted unemployment rate continues to be a staggering 9%, as per the Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.  I wrote this post in November 2010.  What is the freakin problem?)

4 Comments Add yours

  1. izimbali says:

    It’s amazing how time repeats itself. I wonder if some of the youth today can relate and express this matter like this boy did back then.

    1. That’s a good question…I wonder if we’re (meaning the people who come in regular contact with young people) are even having this conversation with the youth who would be most affected by this recession and giving them an opportunity to voice their concerns. Or, maybe the issue is, the young people who are most vulnerable have been so for such a long time, they don’t know or can’t tell that there’s really a national crisis. Or maybe they just don’t care. I don’t know which is worse, quite frankly.

      What struck me as poignant was that this 12-year-old boy sat down and wrote a letter to the President!!! Maybe that’s what we need to do, organize a letter writing campaign and get our youth to express their sentiment to these politicians, demanding that they get off their dusty behinds and fix this economy!

  2. me says:

    makes me want to drink alchoholic beverages

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