Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Great Depression and Bonnie & Clyde "Revisited"

Many cite The Depression, and embittered anti establishment feelings spawned within America during those oh so tense years-- as a contributing factor for the rise of outlaws such as Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd and others. Although Clyde's life of crime actually began as a petty thief in 1926, The Depression is almost always equated with the saga of Bonnie and Clyde. I agree with the premise, that anger generated within the general populous in the '30s-- combined with a new found tolerance for lawlessness, within many who wouldn't normally support violence and rebellion-- resulted in the environment necessary, to foster the rise of the dust bowl desperadoes.

I believe these "people's heroes" (whether or not they viewed themselves as such)-- were born from the human condition and economic desperation of those most unique times. Although in my view, The Depression cannot be considered an "end all" argument, in supporting blanket sympathy for the actions of The Barrow Gang-- especially in having killed so many-- there must be a "balance" struck in considering their sins, based on an understanding of the times in which they lived. Some call today the Age of Lawlessness. I would respectfully disagree. I view the 1920's and 30s as the true Age of Lawlessness in America. Nonsensical crackdowns on citizens such as the continuation of prohibition, combined with an ineffectual government and then, with "all hell" breaking loose economically-- seemed legitimate reasons for people to have become "fed up" and rebellious. Times were brutally tough-- and people were a reflection of their times.

Today, comparisons are drawn between The Great Depression and our most recent economic downturn. Perhaps the following facts regarding these darkest of times in America, will be helpful in showing-- that although things could be better now, the economic realities of today cannot compare-- to the tremendous plights experienced three quarters of a century ago. A reality not often expressed, is the length of time The Great Depression lasted. Having begun late in 1929, the last of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal 2 support programs wasn't discontinued until 1943-- when the war economy of WWII took hold. It's important to understand, that the depression of the 1930s was a worldwide economic downturn of catastrophic proportions.

Some Facts about The Great Depression in America--

> 13 million people became unemployed > In 1932, 34 million people belonged to families with no regular full-time wage earner > Industrial production fell by nearly 45% between 1929 and 1932 > Home building dropped by 80% between the years 1929 and 1932 > In the 1920s, the banking system in the U.S. was a nearly $50 billion enterprise, which accounted for nearly 50% of GDP > From the years 1929 to 1932, about 5,000 banks went out of business > By 1933, 11,000 of the 25,000 banks in the U S had failed > Between 1929 and 1933, U.S. GDP fell around 30%, and the stock market lost almost 90% of its value > Over one million families lost their farms between 1930 and 1934 > Between 1929 and 1932 the income of the average American family was reduced by 40% > Nine million savings accounts had been wiped out between 1930 and 1933 > 273,000 families had been evicted from their homes in 1932 alone > There were two million homeless people migrating around the country > Over 60% of Americans were categorized as poor by the federal government in 1933 > In the early 1930s, more people emigrated from the United States than immigrated to it > And although overall crime rates fell during this period, murder rates rose-- both within domestic disputes and robberies.

Those are harsh figures for a U.S. population that in 1932, was only 124,840,471. At one point, the unemployment rate climbed to 23.6%. In 1932 alone, the GNP fell a record 13.4% en route to a 31% total decline-- and the top tax rate was increased from 25 to 63%. Today the U.S. population has topped 300,000,000. Since December 2007, the GDP has fallen 2.5%-- and the unemployment rate has hovered at about 9.4% with 9.5 million unemployed. Perhaps we should count our blessings. The Depression Years were "indeed"-- tough and desperate times.

A question??-- If times today were to become as bad as they were so many years ago-- do you feel we as citizens would react any differently to those pressures, hurts and heartaches?? Its something to ponder. I would welcome your comments.

Color Depression photo courtesy of The Library of Congress Collection. I would wager, most of us only envision the depression years-- through the stark contrast of the black and white images we're used to seeing. I'm not sure how many have ever viewed color photos from this period. As lives then of course were lived in color as they are now-- somehow The Depression when viewed within this realism, hits home all the more.

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