Busted flat

“The U.S. soldiers who fought in World War II had the great Depression as their defining experience. Men aged twenty-one in 1941 were nine when the depression began and, regardless of locale, had been through a soul-searching experience along with their families. This period was marked by a dramatic fall in the value of stocks; hundreds of thousands of businesses failed; millions of savings accounts were lost; wages fell an average of 60 percent; and unemployment rose from 9 to 25 percent, which left fifteen million people without jobs. Professional people often took laboring jobs in mills, if they could find them. Or they went door to door trying to sell life insurance for which the insured paid twenty-five cents a week, provided the agent came to the door every week to collect the twenty-five cents. Medical doctors and lawyers were scrounging for ‘nickels and dimes,’ the majority of them barely making a living. Engineers could not find jobs. Occasionally they would be hired, work a few months, then be laid off. Farmers were ‘dirt-poor.’ Salespeople in department stores waited all day for customers who often did not show up. One store had only Ph.D.’s as salespersons. They often worked on commission and frequently had to ask the boss for an advance so they could eat. For those unskilled and undereducated, it was a disaster, as they found the labor-intensive positions they once had filled by those more knowledgeable. Many breadwinners lost faith in themselves and in their government. Because of the widespread poverty, many of those coming of age had dropped out of school to help feed their families. Those who had finished high school and even those who went on to college scrabbled for any work. Many of those who could not find jobs enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps for a dollar a day plus room and board or received jobs through the Works Progress Administration, both products of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.” – Robert Sterling Rush, Hell in Hürtgen Forest

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