I have listed a web site below that contains some accounts of people who actually lived during this time. This article describes the Great Depression as being a time when the gap was widening between the "haves" and "have nots." Unemployment rose dramatically and rural areas were hit the hardest. Boys and girls as young as ten years old had to go to work in factories to help support their families. By doing so they had to leave school. Many families even found themselves homeless. There were shacks that were built, called Hoovervilles, that offered shelter to families who had no place to live. If families were lucky enough to keep their homes they often had to take in borders in order to help pay the bills.
All of my relatives that lived through that time period had hard times. They were farmers, and some of them lost the farm to foreclosure and had to move. I think about the fact that in my entire life, I've never been hungry. I mean, hungry for dinner, yes, but really hungry, not so much. It was a humbling time. It had to be.
I think a lot of people lost their dignity, their ability to think about the future in terms of more than a week or two. To deal with that kind of instability for so long, a decade long Depression, scarred that generation in ways that are still visible. My grandfather hated when any of us threw food away. I'd be tossing a third of a sandwich and he'd read me the riot act, then eat the sandwich himself.
I do think people were closer to their families, and spent more time with them. They were more creative and didn't need to be entertained all the time like my generation. There was a beauty in the simplicity of the lives they lived, and had to live. They grew more of their own food. Movies or dinner out were a big deal. They appreciated life more.
The fact that the people who lived through the Great Depression never forgot it tells much of the desperation of the times. They remained frugal until their last moments, saving such small items as sacks or anything that could be reused. Always they talked of how certain foods were unavailable, and if they did have something, they made it last for days. Of course, there were the long lines that people so patiently waited in to get bread or soup. And, worse, there were people who jumped from windows in their despair over fortunes lost.
One needs only read Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath that tells of the plight of the tenant farmers in the Dust Bowl and Of Mice and Men to learn how alienated people were in this time, how mistrustful they were of others. Woody Guthrie traveled in boxcars on trains and sang of the desperation of the time. Numbers of workers were drawn to Socialism and Communism and waged strikes in the hopes that they could attain a better life.
Dorothea Lange, a phographer of the Depression era, is known for her realistic and haunting images. Her 1935 shapshot of a migrant worker with her children bespeaks volumes of the poverty and destitution that people of this era lived in. Once proud people were dependent upon the government to provide for them, and they were ashamed. But, they had to work and the WPA provided jobs. Or, they were too proud, like Mr. Cunningham of To Kill a Mockingbird. Still others turned to illegal activity such as bootlegging. "People did what they had to do," remarks one octegenarian. Still, the "picture shows" thrived during this time period as people were delighted to enter the theatre and forget the misery outside. Nearly every Depression-era movie had a happy, positive end.
The Great Depression followed by World War II is what made those that Tom Brokraw calls "The Greatest Generation." As Elie Kazan, the famous director remarked, "Only when people endure a great struggle in their lives do they truly become a person of worth." Certainly, the Depression and WWII were trying times that made people worth their mettle.
Even within the United States, this depended a lot on who you were.
You can see all the Dorothea Lange pictures (Google her) that show how hard things were for some people. You can see pictures of bread lines and Hoovervilles. So obviously life was very hard for many people.
On the other hand, my maternal grandmother kept a diary during those years. Her family was a farm family from Idaho but she was attending the U. of Cincinnati and living with her sister who was a schoolteacher there.
She did not experience hard times. She was able to go to movies pretty regularly. She was able to buy new stuff every now and then. Her diary does not sound at all gloomy or like she was in poverty.
When she transferred back to the U. of Idaho, the same thing applied. She would go out on dates, stuff like that. So it really depended on the luck of the draw, I think.