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How Bad Was Unemployment During the Great Depression?

Unemployment during the Great Depression reached a staggering 25%, painting a grim picture of widespread hardship and economic turmoil. Lives were upended as millions struggled to find work in an era of scarcity. Imagine the impact on families and communities. How did society adapt to such an unprecedented challenge? Join us as we examine the resilience that shaped a generation.

It can be hard to find a job sometimes, but imagine a world in which one out of every four people you see is out of work. At the height of the Great Depression, Americans didn't have to imagine it: The unemployment rate reached a peak of 25.6 percent in May 1933.

By comparison, the worst jobless rate since the end of the Great Depression occurred in April 2020, when it neared 15 percent. The only other times on record that the unemployment rate surpassed 10 percent were during the recessions of 2009 and 1982.

In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, U.S. unemployment exceeded 25%; it approached 15% in April 2020.
In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, U.S. unemployment exceeded 25%; it approached 15% in April 2020.

However, according to Stephen Woodbury, an economics professor at Michigan State University, it is difficult to compare current jobless rates with unemployment during the Great Depression because of factors like temporary layoffs, or so-called "furloughs." Those can skew jobless rates because they include workers who actually expect to return to their jobs.

For example, in April 2020, the coronavirus pandemic curtailed many businesses, but instead of losing workers, they furloughed them with the expectation that they would return after business picked up again. In fact, more than 18 million of the 23 million unemployed Americans at that time were hopeful of returning to the job they had left.

Working out the facts of working:

  • On average, people spend 90,000 hours of their lives at a job.

  • In the United States, there are more salespeople than any other profession; second is cashier, and third is fast-food employee.

  • For most of the working world, Monday is the most common day to call in sick.

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    • In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, U.S. unemployment exceeded 25%; it approached 15% in April 2020.
      By: pds209
      In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, U.S. unemployment exceeded 25%; it approached 15% in April 2020.