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What Happened during the Great Depression?

The Wall Street Crash emphasized the trouble facing the economy during the Great Depression.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced a variety of programs, which were collectively known as the New Deal, to help alleviate the Great Depression.
The Hoover Dam was built during the Great Depression.
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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 April 2014
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The Great Depression is a common term for the social and economic situation in the United States (US) after a dramatic financial disaster in 1929. Brought on by a variety of factors, recovery from the Depression took nearly a decade in the United States, and had devastating effects on the worldwide economy. The United States’ President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is widely credited for pursuing policies that allowed both the economy and the country to recover by the end of the 1930s.

What caused the Great Depression is a matter of considerable debate among historians and economists. Due to failing markets and the convergence of several unfavorable economic factors, the US stock market fell dramatically in late October of 1929 and continued its overall plunge until 1932. According to financial experts, the market did not return to pre-depression levels until the mid 1950s.

Although the Wall Street Crash did not cause the Great Depression, the enormity of the event brought to light the severe threat to the American economic system. Moreover, the massive costs of the recently concluded World War I left the global economy unable to quickly respond to the crisis. Unemployment skyrocketed as businesses that had survived on stocks were forced to shrink or close altogether. Uncounted numbers of individuals lost their invested life savings and jobs, forcing many families from a comfortable existence to poverty in a matter of months, weeks, or even days.

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Despite his initial popularity, US President Herbert Hoover was held to blame for failing to prevent or prepare for the Great Depression, leading to the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. Although some historians point out that Hoover could not possibly have prevented the disaster, the election of Roosevelt is seen by many as a turning point in the Depression. Roosevelt responded quickly with new policies meant to increase employment and bail out the economy. These policies quickly gained popularity, becoming known as the New Deal.

The New Deal included temporary relief programs for the unemployed, and focused on rewriting federal law to improve the way banks and corporations were run. One of the major programs was the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which created millions of government jobs dedicated to public projects such as road and bridge building. The WPA also created thousands of jobs for artists through government programs geared toward supporting art, such as the Federal Theater Project. The New Deal also repealed Prohibition, the constitutional amendment banning alcohol in the United States, to great acclaim.

Although the economy did not begin its full recovery until World War Two created the need for vast wartime industries, the election of President Roosevelt and his tremendous response to the crisis are often credited as changing the mood of the country and restoring hope to the millions of unemployed and suddenly destitute citizens. Some have compared the 2008 election of US President Barack Obama to that of Roosevelt, citing that both ran on a message of unparalleled change during a time of severe economic downturn. While most economists believe that the recession of 2008 will not create a crisis as severe as the Great Depression, the ability of President Obama’s government to turn the falling economic tide will doubtless face constant comparison to the inspirational and historic work of President Roosevelt.

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Discuss this Article

Animandel
Post 11

The latest recession, which has spread throughout much of the world, has provided for trying times for many people. I can only imagine the hard times Americans lived through during The Great Depression. Just thinking about The Great Depression effects on people's lives makes me appreciate my life and what I do have.

Melonlity
Post 10

I'm not sure Obama has turned the economic tide. Unemployment is still high, we're still losing manufacturing jobs to China and other parts of the world and the stimulus spending under Obama's administration has been largely a failure. I call it a failure because the point of stimulus spending is to generate enough jobs to boost the tax base so that the government recovers the money it spent in an attempt to strengthen the economy. That didn't really happen.

On the other hand, I'm one of those rascals that maintains that a president can do very little to help an economy other than letting free enterprise thrive. In the case of the Great Depression, World War II was the single event that truly pulled the U.S. out of its dark economic times. Americans were put back to work to help with the war effort and, following the war, the battered economies of Europe were recovering and in need of the manufactured goods America was producing like crazy.

Please bear in mind I'm not out to bash either Roosevelt or Obama. The point is that a president has limited power to improve the economy. Still, one of the things a president can do is charge tariffs against any goods made outside the U.S. that are to be sold in American markets. That's an anti-free trade move, but I'd support it in a heartbeat.

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