The Great Depression

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What was the emotional impact of the Great Depression on America?

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The Great Depression, which was a widespread economic collapse brought on by the 1929 stock market crash, had a scarring emotional impact on many Americans.

After a decade of wild boosterism (though the agricultural sector struggled in the 1920s), the sudden financial collapse undermined people's confidence in the system and wiped out many people's savings. Not only were personal dreams destroyed, but many questioned whether the American Dream or capitalism itself made sense any more. More people than ever joined the Communist party, feeling the current economic structure had betrayed them.

Therefore, when Franklin D. Roosevelt became president and introduced the New Deal, he knew he needed to do more than simply implement economic reforms, though those were badly needed. He knew he had to reassure the American people on an emotional level, famously stating that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself." He realized that the American economy could not be rebuilt if people forever lost faith in American institutions. He worked to make banks, mortgages, and businesses safer and sounder so that people would trust in them. He wanted average people to know the system would work for them, not just for the wealthy few.

When I was growing up, there was still something called the "Depression mentality" or the "hidden scar," which referred to older citizens who were fearful that another economic collapse would occur and that they would be left with nothing but hunger and homelessness. These were elderly people who used forty-watt light bulbs to save money on their electric bills and hoarded old, worn-out pens and shoeboxes in their basements. These were the people who never recovered from the trauma of want brought on by the Great Depression.

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The emotional impact of the Great Depression was significant then and now. When the Great Depression struck, people didn’t know what to do or what to think.

The Great Depression was a crushing blow to most Americans. Americans lived life in the 1920s as if there were no worries in the world at all. They spent money free and really enjoyed life. When the Great Depression occurred, many Americans lost most, if not all, of their life savings. They had bought over-priced stock on credit, and they were unable to repay their debts. They also went into debt when they bought consumer products. They were unable to repay these debts also. When factories closed, people were put out of work. Farmers and homeowners lost their farms and homes when they couldn’t pay their mortgages. Some people lost confidence in themselves because they needed help from the government and private groups. Americans became dependent on the government.

The government and other groups tried to help the American people. Soup kitchens were set up to provide food for the hungry. The government launched a series of programs to try to get people back to work. The government tried to help those who had mortgages. People realized they needed government help during these very difficult times. The Great Depression shattered the image of the rugged individual.

To this day, people who lived during the Great Depression are fearful of another collapse. They tend to be very concerned about financial matters and try to not waste money. Some live very frugally because they are afraid of another depression. They remember what it was like to not have enough food. They become upset if food is wasted or thrown away. Some people who grew up in the Great Depression era have a distrust of banks. They remember how their family members or relatives lost everything when some banks failed.

The Great Depression began over 80 years ago. It impacted people emotionally back then by shattering their sense of security and invincibility. It impacts some people today because they live in fear of going back to depression-like conditions when the economy declines.

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The emotional impact of the Great Depression on Americans was tremendous.  It was a time when Americans did not know if they were going to sink into dire poverty.  It was a time when some Americans did not know how they were ever going to be able to be prosperous again.  This made it a time of terrible uncertainty and strain for many Americans.  We can see this from the impact that it had on people's family lives.  Fewer people got married during the Depression and fewer children were born.  This alone is telling testimony that reveals how uncertain and insecure Americans felt during this time.

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