One of the most change-filled time periods throughout American history occurred during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, due to the significant social, economic and governmental developments made. For the whole of each decade, three significant events greatly affected the country, The Great Depression, World War Two, and The Post War Boom. The government had varying reactions to each event, putting multiple bills and laws in place that affected people for years to come.
Population per state greatly shifted, as well as the majority of people’s views on topics such as women’s place in society, and how to spend their money. The 1930s were a time of mass economic struggle for the majority of Americans, with the unemployment rate hitting a high of 24.2% and less than half of the population owning a house. Although it was challenging to find jobs, 24.3% of women were working although they were often in domestic or personal service jobs. The birth rate of the 30s hit its lowest during 1935, at only 18. The average income per year was only just above $10,000, causing consumer spending on luxury goods to be practically nonexistent as many families couldn’t afford to support themselves.
However, many Americans still did listen to the radio and go to the movies, possibly to distract themselves from the situation America was in. As a result of the stress on the economy caused by the Great Depression, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the USA dropped by over 20% from 1929 to 1932. This massive drop may have also in part been caused by the dust bowl and the tax hikes put in place by President Hoover. In reaction to the crisis in America, the New Deal was implemented in 1933, and was followed by the Second New Deal in 1935 by Franklin Roosevelt, and aimed to provide jobs and stabilize the economy through a series of programs and projects such as the construction of bridges, schools, and highways. Roosevelt also created the Social Security Act, which allowed a large amount of Americans to have unemployment insurance, and the Works Progress Administration to further help Americans gain employment.
The 1940s greatly differed from the previous decade as from 1939 to 1945 America was greatly involved in and primarily focused on world war two. This caused large amounts of Americans to gain employment in the military, lowering the unemployment rate by around 92% at its lowest. The majority of factories went from barely producing anything to solely producing equipment for war such as guns, armor, and ammo, causing many jobs to open. This opening of jobs caused many women to begin working, with women’s labor participation experiencing a 50% increase. The dual income of many households caused 10% more Americans to own a house and resolved many of the economic problems in the 30s with the average income rising to $31,000 (a 210% increase). The average household was also advancing technologically, as 79% of Americans had electricity, a noticeable difference from the 1930s’ 69%. However, the birth rate only experienced a 3% increase from the 1930s, possibly due to the dangerous situations of war. The whole of America was improving economically as well, as the GDP had increased by 204% since the middle of the Great Depression.
The major governmental change of this decade, the GI Bill in 1944, was closely linked to WW2, as it was implemented to assist soldiers returning from war assimilate into society. It put multiple hospitals in place, helped many members of the armed forces with tuition, and established low-interest mortgages.When contrasted with the 1930s and 40s, the 1950s are arguably the most peaceful time out of the three decades as no major negative events occurred and many households began to settle down. After the war many factories switched to creating commercial goods such as television sets and refrigerators, causing two major changes; Americans began purchasing new technologies due to large amounts of built up wealth, and many women returned to more traditional roles and jobs, with 33% working, only around a 10% difference from 1930. However, the unemployment rate increased by around 3%, rising to 4.3%.
This decrease was most likely due to the fact that most of the jobs created in the 1940s only lasted as long as the war did. The majority of Americans were greatly influenced by the image of a “perfect, traditional household”, causing the birth rate to increase by just under 25%. This image combined with the recent improvement in cost and functionality of air conditioners caused many families to move to hotter sections of America. There was a 52% population increase in California, and a 50% increase in population in Florida. Due to this massive shift, states such as Massachusetts slowed down when it came to population growth, and practically flatlined. The 50s were a great time of growth economically for the government as well, as from 1950 to 1959 the GDP increased by 74.3%.
However, personal debt increased due to families sudden want to purchase large amounts of expensive commercial goods. This is proven through the massive increase in tv sales from 3 million sold to over 9 million sold, an increase of 200%.Although a large amount of Americans received the benefits of the developments from the 1930s to the 1950s, the minorities in the US such as African Americans and Hispanic Americans were actively discriminated against through government policies and social stigmas.
There was a large gap between home ownership of white Americans and African Americans that persisted throughout the three decades that reached 28%. In 1950, African Americans made 45% less than white Americans, and even if they could afford a house with that income there was a harsh social stigma surrounding selling a house to a person who wasn’t white. Many segments of land had restrictive covenants placed upon them, meaning the owners were not allowed by law to sell to certain people, in this case, non-white people. Along with this, African Americans had higher unemployment rates, 9.9% to the white American 5%. While these problems persisted throughout the three decades, they continue to divide society, although less extreme.