There is only one event in the 20th century that occurred in the United States that has a major influence on our world today: The Great Depression. This, along with the simultaneous Dust Bowl phenomenon, had both a catastrophic impact on life at the time, and the economic policies of the U.S. today. Countless people in cities and towns went homeless or without jobs, and farmers impacted by both disasters moved to places like California for a better life. There is still countless people who can tell you about the times, and the horrible conditions of life then.
The Great Depression was no coincidence or event of fate and nature. Princeton economist Paul Krugman blamed it on -a collapse of effective demand (Jacobson Schwartz and Milton). Effective demand is when people move to one good or service from another because the other is unaffordable or out of reach (Colander 379), so the crash that sparked the 1930s depression was the lack thereof. In the 1930s people would blame it wholly on stock market speculation, reckless banking practices, and a concentration of wealth in too few hands (Powell 48). These came into play, but again, the underlying ineffective demand was to blame. The 1930r’s had the highest sustained unemployment in U.S. history, with at least 14% of the population jobless in the decade, along with most of those employed still being impoverished (Powell 48). The Great Depression was not properly addressed until the Banking Laws of 1935, the Glass-Steagall Act, and the overarching New Deal, which all existed so the government could aid in returning the market to normal (Powell 48-09). Despite these attempts to correct the market, the depression endured from 1929 to 1937, worst in 1933. Not just people in urban areas were affected though, as farmers were hit hard by the chain of demand. When buyers of produce spent what money they had on farm goods, farmers still couldnt afford anything with that same money and went totally broke. When these times were the toughest, -some farm families were forced to eat their seed corn(Morton 52). This is how desperate, and knowingly desperate farmers were, that they would eat their only source of the next yearr’s harvest for sustenance.
Countless farmers migrated to cities for some sort of work, partially also driven by the Dust Bowl (UC Davis 1). Another group heavily impacted by the Great Depression was minorities and women. First of all, women were highly disadvantaged at the time, with scarce opportunities to work. With many men cut off from work, there was almost no income in many households, and single women were even worse off (Marx 1). Minorities, especially African Americans, were the most hurt overall, by a racist environment all over the south and worsened poverty. For example, the New Deal contained no anti-lynching legislation (Marx 1), and public lynching/beating was prevalent and somewhat common at the time. Government employment programs were even made discriminatory, as their local supervisors would reduce the pay of minority workers to increase the pay of white workers. Eventually, this got to the high office, but the changes enacted didnt do much for the workers, as they still lived in discrimination (Marx 1).
The Dust Bowl was a climatic event that occurred during the 1930r’s. There is no stated year where it was at itr’s worst, but it generally took worst effect in growing seasons with ?anomalous drought and heat (Donat et al. 415). As noted in an Climate Dynamics article, The climate over much of the US during the 1930s was characterized by exceptionally hot and dry conditions (Peterson et al. 2013), often referred to as the ?Dust Bowl(Donat et al. 413). The Dust Bowl is called such because it was characterized by frequent and severe dust storms during the decade. These storms were spawned by the droughts sweeping the nation, especially the southern Great Plains, which were in turn caused by the record high temperatures (Cook et al. 1). According to the Columbia University Earth Institute, There had never been dust storms like these in prior droughts. In the worst years of the 1930s on as many as a quarter of the days, dust reduced visibility to less than a mile. More soil was lost by wind erosion than the Mississippi carried to the sea(Cook et al. 1). Hence, the name is derived from the dust blowing on the prairies which was the ruin of any farmland, comprised of the land itself. Naturally, those most affected from the devastation of farmland are going to be the resident farmers. Many farmers were completely out of work, as the earth they had been planting on was blown away by high winds, dried by the arid conditions. Countless farmers had the choice between moving away or starving, with little to no money left from the annual yield (Worster 29). The landscape, in the words of Donald Worster, was as follows: The fences, piled high with tumbleweeds and drifted over with dirt, looked like giant backbones of ancient reptiles (Worster 29). This is an illustration of the dirt piles, but even more devastating is the description of the farmlands- -the underlying hardpan was laid bare, as sterile and unyielding as a city pavement (Worster 29). Clearly, the formal fertile land was unusable and the soil was elsewhere, so farmers were left with no place for what crops they had to sow. Any topsoil gave way to hard undersoil, which could not grow anything.
These farmers still had to make a living, though. So they traveled, mostly to the west, as migrant workers (UC Davis 1). These migrant workers were farmers and assorted people from the midwest who traveled the country looking for any kind of work. They emerged because of economic decline of the Great Depression and/or because their farms had been blown dry in the Dust Bowl. There numbers were large but spread out in the plains, but nearing California, their numbers were startlingly high and concentrated, some even creating immigrant camps outside cities (UC Davis 1). In fact, a study by Anne Loftis states that In Fall 1931, migrants were arriving in the state at the rate of 1,200 to 1,500 a day, an annual rate of almost 500,000 (UC Davis 1). This huge number meant municipalities would try to make laws and regulations lowering the number of migrants allowed to enter. Life for a typical migrant worker was going from farm to farm, planting, irrigating, and harvesting, often never staying at a single farm for long. Many lived in semi-legal camps in California, where they were harassed by officers to get them to leave. States like California, where many moved in, were not welcoming to the influx, and so they passed laws and labor acts that would prevent the migrants from entering at all. Work was hard, industrial labor on farms and sometimes at factories (UC Davis 1). Again referring to the barring acts of municipalities, migrants were mistreated in various ways. One of these ways was outlined in the Vagrancy Laws of 1933 and 1937, under which many migrants were arrested and sometimes “lent” to farmers to work off their fines (UC Davis 1). This practice is similar to debtors prison which was banned centuries earlier in England. This is also somewhat akin to temporary slavery, as migrants would often have no choice in the matter of their work and no ability to legally leave or disobey the employer. Migrants very rarely gained much wealth and many stayed dirt poor all through the 30s (UC Davis 1).
Migrants, as mentioned, often traveled to California for work – specifically the Salinas Valley. The Salinas Valley is home to the capital of the state, Sacramento. However, it wasnt the big city most of the travelers were looking for, but farm labor. There is no shortage of farmland in that valley. The Salinas Valley is a long valley surrounded by the Sierra de Salinas, Gabilan, and Diablo mountain ranges. The valley has a wide watershed, and the floor is fertile from that distribution (Saavedra). There are underground deposits of water, such as the Pressure 180-foot and 400-foot, increasing the flow of water into the valleyr’s irrigation and drinking water. Mountainous silt makes up the topsoil next to the Salinas River itself, adding to the fertility of the land and ability to mass farm (Saavedra). Primarily, the Salinas Valley has an output of crops like corn, wheat, and all sorts of ground level leaves (cabbage, lettuce, etc.). The valleyr’s large output brings in billions per year, contributing to Californiar’s country-like economy. Not the river, but rather groundwater from the greater watershed, is what supplies the watering needs of Salinas crops. In fact, 95% of irrigation is just from underground deposit sources, and that same percentage goes for local uses and greater industry in urban areas (Saavedra). The great benefit of such land is the fertility of soil and overall availability of water. The two large drawbacks are the surrounding mountains, which can slow travel time and trade, and the possibility of over-farming and contaminating water. Over-farming can make contaminated water in two ways. Taking too much from underground reserves before it can be replenished leaves natural toxins in higher concentration, so if a certain location was extracted the toxins would come with it in high density. The other way is that reduced aquifer pressure allows seawater to flood into reserves and ruin them for further use in any way (Saavedra). In a data paper by Manuel Saavedra, The high chloride levels have rendered the seawater intruded ground waters too salty for municipal and agricultural use(Saavedra 1). This, however, is only for the coastline valley, so inland places where migrants traveled were safe from seawater intrusion.
The four topics covered clearly share a chronological connection and timeline. The Great Depression and Dust Bowl occured at the same time, each worsening the effect of the other to some degree. The people displaced in the Dust Bowl became traveling, dirt-poor migrant workers, and many of them moved to the Salinas Valley in California for prospect. These all come together to influence our current day ideas about climate, natural phenomena, banking powers, and immigration.
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