The Great Depression

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How has the role of the federal government in social policy action changed since the onset of the Great Depression?

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The role of the federal government has changed significantly since the Great Depression began. Prior to the Great Depression, the prevailing attitude was one of laissez-faire. The belief was that the government should have a very limited role in helping people who needed help.

Once the Great Depression began, people looked to the federal government for help when times became rough. The Great Depression was so severe and negatively impacted so many Americans, that people shifted their views about the role of the federal government. Many Americans faced desperate conditions as many people lost their jobs and/or their savings. They turned to the government for relief. The federal government developed relief programs in the form of job programs, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps and Civil Works Administration. They also looked to the government to reform banking and investment practices so that it would be more difficult for another financial collapse to occur. The Glass-Steagall Act and the Securities Act were passed. The government also developed programs to help people as they became older. The establishment of the Social Security Act provided help for people when they retired.

In the 1960s, the Great Society program of President Johnson was designed to help people who needed help. Medicare and Medicaid are programs providing health insurance to the elderly and to the poor. The Head Start program helped disadvantaged kids get a chance to start school early.

Today, people rely on these social programs. Any discussion about changing Medicare, Medicaid, and/or Social Security is often met with stiff opposition. The belief that our government should act as a safety net for those in need remains strong today.

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