The setting of To Kill a Mockingbird is the 1930's during the Great Depression when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president.
Roosevelt instituted his New Deal, which brought some relief to people with the Works Progress Administration (WPA). This program put to work thousands of unemployed and unskilled men. Bridges and highways were constructed, schools, and even parks. Most people who needed a job were eligible for employment with the WPA.
In Harper Lee's novel, Mr. Walter Cunningham refuses a job with the WPA because his farm would go to ruin if he left it. Bob Ewell is hired by the WPA, but he is fired, although almost no one is actually fired from the WPA.
While the Federal Government was characterized by the New Deal, which was a socialized program, the state government of Alabama had no such programs. Alabama began to lose much of its income beginning in the 1920's with the decline in agriculture. Because the farmers could not purchase things, the few industries in Alabama had to reduce production. Consequently, workers were fired. Unemployment was at least 25 percent throughout much of the 1930's.
In cities, too, unemployment was high, especially in Birmingham, where iron and steel mills closed. President Roosevelt in 1934 described this city as the "worst hit town in the country."
Textile mills stayed in business, but fewer workers were employed and made to work longer hours for lower wages. After a while, a massive strike was started in Gadsden, a city north of Birmingham. This strike, begun in 1934, spread to mills on the East Coast as workers protested against the owners of the mills who sought to avoid adhering to new regulations effected during the New Deal.
Economic conditions for blacks in the North were so bad that some returned to farms in Alabama, hoping to live off the land, but so much of the soil had been overworked that it was stripped of nutrients. In addition, the Jim Crow Laws were in effect, so social conditions for African-Americans were deplorable. Segregation extended to all facets of life. There were separate schools, churches, restaurants, restrooms, drinking fountains--all of which were inferior to those for whites. Some African-Americans became Communists in their efforts to achieve better treatment and obtain jobs, but their efforts did not go far, as the KKK posted warnings against joining the Communist Party.