What were the effects of World War II on American women and minority groups in the United States, and were they positive or negative?

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After a decade of Depression, World War II brought a full employment economy. Factories ran night and day to produce the planes, tanks, ships, weapons, and supplies needed for war machine. The war opened up widespread economic opportunities for women and minorities.

Mexican Americans, for example, prospered during the war....

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After a decade of Depression, World War II brought a full employment economy. Factories ran night and day to produce the planes, tanks, ships, weapons, and supplies needed for war machine. The war opened up widespread economic opportunities for women and minorities.

Mexican Americans, for example, prospered during the war. For the first time, they were offered the same wages at whites. Their employment in shipyards, for example, increased over the course of only three years from nothing to 17,000 by 1944. They also had opportunities to serve in the military. Further, the Bracero program, though criticized as exploitative, brought an extra 168,000 farm workers, many of them Mexican into the U.S. during the war years.

World War II is famously the period of "Rosie the Riveter," the muscular poster woman who could do a man's work. Women took on all sort of duties once the province of men alone. They earned money (often a lot of it, with long shifts and overtime) and showed their competency in the work world.

Blacks also prospered, due to chances to serve in the military and the pressing need for workers at home.

These groups lost ground again after the war ended, but the seeds planted by the war economy showed the advantages of having access to wider economic opportunities. Minority groups also had a taste of integration and did not want to return to segregation after the war. These changes were largely positive.

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The effects of a war are numerous and often particular to individuals. So, in the space provided here, we can only talk about ways in which people were generally impacted.

For women, particularly white women, the major impact was that, due to the absence of men and the necessity of manufactured goods, they were called upon to be employed in factories, particularly munitions factories. This allowed many of them to earn their own incomes for the first time and to understand what it felt like to work outside of the home. Further, this allowed them to socialize with other women in a context that was not domestic. 

While men were abroad, the culture shifted toward women. Women had become the primary consumers, which was still important, even in a time of rationing. This consumption was especially important at the movies. Many of the films made during the war were "women's films," sentimental stories in which women and their experiences were the subjects. These films became less popular after soldiers returned home.

For minority groups, particularly African Americans, the war offered expansions in economic opportunity (black women were also employed at factories) and in their ability to show their patriotism once again. Despite discrimination in the armed forces, many black people sought to enlist and, for the first time, African Americans became eligible for officer training. After the Second World War, in 1948, President Truman signed an executive order officially ending military segregation.

The positive effects of the war were the further inclusion of black people in the military and the participation of women in the war effort. The negative effects were that, due to inequalities at home, black people did not benefit as much as whites from the G.I. Bill and experienced discrimination and harassment as soon as they returned home. Also, women were expected to return to the domestic sphere and stay there.

The postwar 1950s are regarded as a prosperous era, mainly due to the mass consumerism of the period. However, it might be helpful to think about who prospered and how groups of people who were not white males fared in the postwar period.

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