The Great Depression did not affect everyone equally. Male African-Americans felt the impact the hardest, as they were let go from jobs before their European American counterparts. On the other hand, wealthy people who did not lose their fortunes in the stock market crash were hardly affected by the country's economic downturn. Employment opportunities increased in some sectors, though, as a direct result of the weak economy, and women, particularly African-American women, had an easier time than men in finding work. Private business owners also found ways to streamline their services.
Going into Government Work
The number of employees on the federal government payroll increased substantially during the Great Depression. The creation of the Social Security Administration and the National Labor Relations Board were among the factors that led to a doubling in the number of civilians employed by the federal government between the 1920s and 1940. About 2 million men between the ages of 18 and 25 were employed by the government-created Civilian Conservation Corp, a nationwide program that put men to work planting trees, cleaning polluted waterways and establishing wildlife sanctuaries. The Works Progress Administration, another work relief program, put more than 8 million men and women to work in fields that ranged from constructing bridges to creating works of art.
Silver Screen Produces Gold
Despite the hard times, more than 80 million people went to the movies at least once a week during the Great Depression. Those who were lucky enough to have jobs in the movie industry continued to find work in the Great Depression and in many ways helped others get through the hard times. Actress Mae West, one of the decade's most popular screen stars, commanded a weekly salary of $5,000. Despite their popularity, movie theaters did experience lower attendance in the mid-1930s and began losing money. One element that saved the theater business was the introduction of an inexpensive snack: popcorn. Movie theater owners who installed popcorn vending machines saw an immediate increase in profits.
The percentage of women working increased during the Great Depression for several reasons. New technologies in manufacturing eliminated the need for skilled workers but increased the need for unskilled workers, such as women just entering the workforce. Some of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal social programs required people with backgrounds in teaching and social services, jobs traditionally held by women. African-American women continued to be able to find jobs as domestics for people who were not economically affected by the Depression.
Adapting to Change
In the 1930s, it was customary for funeral directors to prepare a deceased relative's body for viewing in the family home. However, many people lost their homes during the Depression. At the same time, funeral directors felt obliged to help those who could not afford a funeral and accepted barter such as homegrown produce or homemade crafts as payment for their services. An opportunity to continue helping people and reduce their own costs presented itself when funeral directors began purchasing -- at a much-reduced price -- large homes or mansions repossessed by banks. Funeral directors were then able to conduct their business out of their homes as well as provide a place for people to lay out their loved ones.
- EyeWitnesstoHistory.com: American in the 1930s: The Great Depression
- Library of Economics and Liberty: Great Depression; Gene Smiley
- Stanford University: EDGE: The Great Depression and The New Deal
- PBS.org: American Experience: The Works Progress Administration
- NPR.org: Remembering the Great Depression's Sunny Side
- Smithsonian.com: Food and Think: Why Do We Eat Popcorn at The Movies?
- University of North Texas: Congressional Research Service: The Labor Market During the Great Depression and The Current Recession
- PBS.org: American Experience: The Great Depression
- ICCFA: Funeral Service is Not "Recession Proof"
- Lauer Funeral Home: History
- George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images