Desperate Times (Part 1)
By Steven Raab
FDR assessed the crisis in ways
that are relevant for us today.
Plummeting stock prices, rising unemployment, jobs insecure, bank failures, real estate foreclosures: Sound familiar? The year is 1930. That was when Americans began to feel the effects of the economic downturn that began with the Stock Market Crash the previous October, and when a panic mainly limited to investors deepened into the Great Depression.
The realization that this downturn would be long and catastrophic left people stunned and demoralized. Towns of homeless people sprung up, while men who’d held high-paying jobs took to the streets in their once-expensive but now frayed clothing to sell apples and pencils. The Hoover administration took the position that it was not the place of government to intervene. It stood by and did little, which is why the shantytowns were called Hoovervilles.
Through 1930 and into 1931, the problem of unemployment in New York state grew increasingly critical, and it was obvious that neither local funding nor privately supported agencies could handle the crisis. As the leading industrial state, New York had an especial need to maintain and develop the wage-earner market. With the support of both labor and business, Frances Perkins, the state industrial commissioner, told Governor Roosevelt that public works projects were “the greatest source of hope for the future,” and she recommended the immediate implementation of local public works programs along with public employment clearinghouses. He set up an emergency employment committee to review options but was soon convinced that more drastic measures were necessary than the committee proposed.