What impact did the Great Depression have on ordinary Americans?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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For many people in the United States, the Great Depression meant a significant decline in standard of living. The hallmark of the the Depression was high unemployment, but for many people, job loss was preceded by a significant decline in the value of investments, and, for those unlucky enough to have money in failing banks, a loss of savings. As the spending power of families decreased, and one bank after another collapsed, the liquidity crisis that caused the depression in the first place deepened. Many people who retained their jobs were forced to accept much lower wages, and men, in particular, saw their ability to care for their families, an important component of masculinity at the time, decline. The feelings of anxiety that accompanied these changes for common people were made worse by the fact that contemporary ideology tended to associate poverty with moral failure. Hence an important task in facilitating recovery was to work to reestablish confidence. As Harry Hopkins, one of Roosevelt's senior advisors, put it in 1933:

Three or four million heads of households don't turn into tramps and cheats overnight...An eighth or a tenth of the earning population does not change its character which has been generations in the molding, or, if such a change actually occurs, we can scarcely charge it up to personal sin...

This philosophy encouraged people to look to the federal government for assistance, which in the long run, was the most significant change in the lives of common people as a result of the Depression. People began to recognize, and even rely on, the government's role in providing them with security against economic conditions they could not avoid being affected by.