> Did they define unemployment then as they do now? For a long time now
> you only count if you are looking for work. Surveys are now done by
> phone. In the 30s I wonder what methods were used.
In 1932 a phone survey predicted Hoover would win against FDR. But in
1932 the people who had phones were affluent and supported Hoover.
I don't know how they sampled unemployment or the definitions used
> I'll bet the rates in NYC and Chicago were different in many ways than
> where I grew up outside of the small city (remote from almost
> anywhere) of Paducah.
Absolutely. Many people left the small towns and rural areas for the
big cities in those years to find jobs and escape the boredum of rural
> Lots of folks were working in the 30s but not making much money.
That is not reflected in unemployment stats. But it was a big part of
the economic troubles and the deflation of those years. Money was
extremely tight. People wouldn't spend it unless they absolutely had
to which constrained the economy. People who did have jobs made very
little money; most companies had pay cuts.
The deflation meant that if you owed money (like for a mortgage on the
farm or house), it was harder to pay it since you had to work so much
harder to get a dollar than in the past -- the dollar was worth more.
We're used to inflation where the dollar declines and that benefits
> My dad's high school class was very small due to
> most of the kids dropping out way before they turned 16 to go to work
> to help the family out.
Very common in those days.
> So the question I have is how of the recovery was without war and
> pre-war spending? Any? I know life was tough for my dad's farm family.
Farm life was very tough before the Depression and the Depression made
The government started its "alphabet soup" of programs -- NRA, WPA,
PWA, TVA, AAA, CCC, to (1) help individuals keep their homes and not
starve, (2) pump money into the economy, and (3) give some hope to
people. Note that the RFC, which loaned money to railroads, banks and
businesses so they'd stay open and keep people working, was instituted
by Herbert Hoover, not FDR, and Hoover set a record of increased govt
spending. Hoover was a terrible "spin doctor" compared to FDR,
The government programs helped a little, but conditions remained hard
throughout the 1930s. Obviously it varied from person to person and
location to location. A few people had comfortable middle class
lifestyles (they were still building and selling cars and a few nice
new houses), most did not.
Most people managed to get along "ok" -- they were working -- though
it was hard. Occassionally they'd have a little extra money for a
luxury like a movie, eating out, or outing or vacation.
A big problem was lack of confidence. If someone did have an extra
nickel, they'd really hesitate to spend it, afraid of tomorrow.
Things slowly improved beginning in 1938, mostly from defense and
foreign military spending.
I think the two World's Fairs in 1939 (NYC and SF) perked things up a
bit. Times were still quite tough, but slowly easing. As more people
got jobs, they spent money which turned the downward cycle around. In
Philadelphia a lot of nice new houses were built around 1938 onward
and new apartment towers in NYC. Some places or industires never
Like everyone else, the Bell System was picking up business at that
time. It was about to finish some new products, like the 555 PBX, but
then the war hit and froze all work. The 555 didn't make it out until
1949. However, I think toll long distance benefited from wartime
radar experience which used microwaves. A lot of young men learned
advanced electronics from their war time jobs and they were eagerly
sought by industry after the war where they made major contributions
in computers and communications. The Bell System, IBM, RCA and other
such companies exploded after the war. (Postwar defense spending
helped quite a bit.)