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The Gilded Age brought rapid industrialization and economic growth to the United States, but it created several problems. Discuss the problems that arose during the Gilded Age.
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In addition to the problems mentioned above, I would add that the Gilded Age witnessed massive and rapid urbanization that led to deplorable living conditions in many urban areas. To use New York as an example, the Lower East Side became filled with immigrants, both from abroad and from the countryside, and many were crowded into inexpensive tenements. These buildings, filled to many times their capacities, became dens of disease. Working-class neighborhoods degenerated into slums, where people suffered from unsanitary conditions, massive crime, and general lack of economic opportunity. These conditions were all the more deplorable for the fact that they occurred, as Jacob Riis famously pointed out in his expose How the Other Half Lives, a few blocks from some of the richest neighborhoods in the United States.
There were a lot of problems that arose during the Gilded Age. Let us look at three of them here.
- Corruption in government. This was a time in which big businesses came to dominate the economy. They also came to have a tremendous influence on government. They were able to essentially “buy” people in government who would do their will.
- Problems for workers. This was also a time of cutthroat competition between companies followed by domination by trusts and monopolies. Both of these were bad for workers. They led to situations where workers worked in dangerous conditions for long hours and got low pay. All of these things helped lead to a rise in union activity and labor strife.
- Problems for farmers. The railroads became absolutely necessary to farm life. So did banks. Both had a hold on farmers and used that hold to exploit them to some degree. Banks imposed onerous terms on loans the farmers needed. Railroads charged high prices. These abuses helped lead to the rise of populist protest and other political activities by the populists.
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