Life of minorities in the USA during the Great Depression

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After the Wall Street stock market crash of 1929 the USA started its fight with the worst economic crisis in its history, further entitled the Great Depression. Minority groups, like African Americans and Native Americans, were definitely in the minority during it. They bore an inordinate amount of the Great Depression’s burden. In this paper we will describe the experiences of African Americans and Native Americans during the worst possible economic crisis and analyze how It should be acknowledged that before the Great Depression started, average Americans enjoyed relief, following the end of the Great War. “Roaring Twenties” that preceded the economic crisis proclaimed the beginning of the America we know now: businesses were growing, new products were manufactured and the government did nothing to regulate the situation in order not to unsettle the economic boom. When the Great Depression started, daily lives of the Americans went on, in many respects much like during the previous decade, but the reality of hard times cast a shadow a few could escape. The gap widened between the people, who had everything and the people, who had nothing. More than 28 percent of households did not have a wage earner and the level of unemployment rose sufficiently. Many families were torn apart, because men left families to search for a job. People worked wherever they could. Children left schools and started working on factories and farms to help their families to survive. People suffered from malnutrition, lived in shanty towns and started sharing very little they had. The feeling of insecurity that Americans developed would last a lifetime and shape their attitude towards saving and spending money decades later. Prejudice and discrimination flooded the country (Cravens, 2009).

Most of African Americans were already poor when the Depression begun. Only 10-12 percent of them owned land and the majority were tenant farmers and sharecroppers. More than a half of African Americans used open privies, or pit toilets, and only 10 percent had their own ones. Occurrences of lynching were frequent, schools for African Americans were open only when the weather was bad and students couldn’t work (Wiegand, 2009). So, the people of this minority existed in terrible conditions and poverty was already rooted deeply in their lives. Most of African Americans worked on farms and relied on farming as a source of money. And when landowners lost their properties, living conditions of this minority worsened (Burg, 2005). Segregation became even more severe. First of all, African Americans worked the most marginal jobs in the economy and these positions, generally unskilled or service oriented, were among the first to be eliminated with no prospect of re-employment. Second of all, when jobs were already scarce, preference was given to White workers. In some areas employers even dismissed African Americans to create jobs for White Americans (Cravens, 2009).  Racial discrimination was widespread and this minority was denied in public works programs’ employment. Some federal job programs even indirectly allowed African Americans to be paid less than White workers by setting lower wage levels for job classifications that were dominated by Black workers (Wiegand, 2009). The New Deal, which was destined to help African Americans, actually contained a lot of inequities. Of course, some of its programs helped this minority’s members to gain foothold in the workplace. For instance, the policy of organized labor helped unskilled and semiskilled workers to get jobs in mass production industries, at docks and seaports. Liberal racial policies of the Communist Party worked to abolish to some extent any forms of racial discrimination. The New Deal had good intentions, but even after its passage hopelessness prevailed. Federal government still denied office appointments, educational and social services programs, simple justice for African Americans (Cravens, 2009).

The Native Americans were another minority that suffered a lot during the Great Depression. Even before the crisis they endured racial discrimination, economic disadvantages, exclusion and misery. Native Americans lived in poverty, their reservations were flooded with diseases, and job marked did not employ them (Bernstein, 1993). Some changes came with the passage of Indian New Deal, which featured job programs for Indian Americans within the framework of Works Project Administration (Murphree, 2012). But generally this minority, as well as all the other minorities, did not receive relief. According to the New Deal, Native Americans were to accept Indian Reorganization Act, which deprived them of their land, governance, identity and self-sufficiency. This was an act that aimed at development and preservation of Indian lands and resources. It also granted them a right to establish their own businesses and organizations, as well as created a special credit system for Native Americans. Indians were also given some rights of home rule and had a possibility to get vocational education (Gunderson, 2004). So, Indian Reorganization Act did help Native Americans to open their own businesses, establish credit unions and federal funds, attend public school and have better jobs. But its acceptance did not help Native Americans to receive any relief or social programs promised. Another act, Indian Recognition Act, helped to protect and stabilize the land of Native Americans, allowed tribes to self-govern themselves, as well as helped them to find jobs through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Indian Emergency Conservation Program helped to provide employment for thousands of Native Americans. The most important thing is the fact that Native Americans were on their way to being treated as well as other people (Murphree, 2012).

The New Deal, which focused on three points – Relief, Recovery and Reform – helped these two minorities to a great extent. Federal Emergency Relief Association provided money for the needy; the large part of them were of African American and Native American descent. As it was previously mentioned, the majority of African Americans were employed on the farms. Therefore, Farm Credit Association, which provided 40 percent of the farms with the possibility of taking low interest loans, also helped the members of this minority. As to the Recovery programs, National Youth Administration helped to keep young African Americans and Native Americans in schools and Federal Housing Act assisted in rebuilding and repairing older houses, where the minorities lived. And the last but not the least, Reform programs were also of great help. As we know, labor rights of minorities were frequently contravened. But with the creation of National Labor Relations Board, all workers could bargain for wages, hours and working conditions. Fair Labor Standards Act reassured minimum wages and maximum working hours’ standards. As the majority of people belonging to these two minorities lived without electricity, the creation of the Rural Electrification Authority was to their benefit. It helped to bring electricity to poor rural homes of African Americans and Native Americans. One of the most important innovations brought by the Reform was the establishment of the Social Security, which was provided for unemployed, aged, dependent and handicapped Americans (Burg, 2005).

To conclude with, the Great Depression changed the mode of lives of all the people in the USA, but minorities still were in the worst condition. If their lives were not so good before the crisis and they were still segregated to the great extent, during the Great Depression situation worsened sufficiently. Although not all the programs, established by the New Deal, worked to help minorities, its passage started slowly changing the situation for the better.

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