The Great Depression is one of the most critical periods of modern U.S. history. It began with the global economic crisis in 1929, which most affected the United States (Davidson, 2014). In 1933, when the crisis reached its peak, the Democratic Party candidate Roosevelt entered the post of President. He carried out a program of anti-crisis measures named “New Deal,” the main reforms during the first hundred days of his presidency when Congress passed many laws covering the socio-economic and political life of the country. However, these two critical events not only influenced the political and economic sphere but also had a significant impact on some groups of the population, such as women, blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans.
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The Impact on Women
The Great Depression affected women and men in very different ways. Women mostly worked in the service sector, and this work generally continued through the 1930s. More than that, in many cases, employers cut wage rates for working women or even, in the case of teachers, did not pay their workers on time (“Women, Impact of the Great Depression on,” 2019). Despite this fact, in many families during the Great Depression, women were the sole breadwinners.
Federal law maintained this conservative stance toward working women consistently. Laws in force from 1932 to 1937 prohibited more than one person per family from being employed in the Federal civil service (“Women, Impact of the Great Depression on,” 2019). Furthermore, the New Deal program, developed in 1933, had an official policy against hiring women. Many of the programs of employment under the New Deal put women in the traditional roles of domestic workers.
The Impact on African-Americans
The Great Depression worsened the already bad economic situation of African- Americans. They were the first people to be fired from their jobs as they suffered from unemployment rates two to three times higher than whites (Hardman, n.d.). Besides, employers preferred white men and then white women over black or Latino women in most cases. As a result of centuries of racism and misogyny in the labor market, most African-American women have been sidelined by new laws enacted to keep workers safe.
The economic struggles of the African-Americans caused major political events among blacks. Beginning in 1929, the St. Louis Urban League launched “a national “jobs for Negroes” movement by boycotting chain stores that had mostly black customers but hired only white employees” (Hardman, n.d., para. 19). Nevertheless, the Roosevelt administration’s New Deal reforms strengthened black support for Roosevelt’s Democratic Party. African-Americans benefited greatly from the New Deal, although discrimination by local administrators was prevalent, and low-cost public housing was provided to black families.
The Impact on Hispanics
Hispanics were among the hardest hit by the economic downturn of the Great Depression. Although there were a few upper-and middle-class families in the more developed Latino communities, most Latinos in the 1910s and 1920s were working-class once they arrived in the United States (“Latino Americans, Impact of the Great Depression on,” 2019). Despite their vital contribution to the U.S. economy, Latinos were often confined to the lowest-paid jobs, paid less than their English-speaking counterparts, and had minimal professional mobility. Their position at the bottom of the economic ladder, combined with the ugly specter of racism, put Latinos at a great disadvantage in the 1930s. In some states, Hispanics were the first to be fired because employers felt obliged to give preference to English-speaking workers.
Consequently, Hispanics then turned to state and federal authorities for help. They have participated in a range of federal aid programs under the New Deal. New Deal social welfare programs also protected Latinos by “insisting that all funds should be distributed without discrimination based on citizenship” (“Latino Americans, Impact of the Great Depression on,” 2019, para. 10). Some programs managed to keep most Latino workers by default, such as large-scale construction projects that have attracted an already experienced Latino workforce. However, as with other ethnic minorities, the New Deal left a mixed legacy among Hispanics. Despite federal efforts to ensure that immigrants could receive social assistance, some state governments continued to turn away them.
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The Impact on Native Americans
Poverty, poor education, and poor health characterized the existence of most Native Americans in the 1920s. In 1928, the Federal government commissioned a study of Native American policies. Meriam’s final report listed the deplorable living conditions of indigenous peoples. Native Americans were deprived of even essential services in health care. In addition, there was not any economic or legal framework in place to protect the rights of Native Americans. Nearly half of all Native Americans lost their lands to unscrupulous people who manipulated the law to take advantage of the lands granted to Indians.
As a result, Meriam’s report became the main project of the Indian New Deal. It introduced a policy of restoring the viability of Native American governments through the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The IRA abandoned the old system of land distribution and urged the tribes to adopt their constitutions. Thus, the right of Native Americans to maintain separate tribal communities was upheld. Gradually, indigenous peoples began to recover from the devastation caused by the allotment policy, and health and education programs improved.
The Great Depression and the New Deal were challenging for the U.S., especially for women, racial and ethnic minorities. That is why Roosevelt’s New Deal has long-term legacies and is regarded as a mixed success in ending a country’s economic problems at the macroeconomic level. It improved the lives of many African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. However, the economic progress of minorities and many working-class women were hampered by discrimination, which the Roosevelt administration rarely fought and often supported.
Davidson, J.W. (2014). US: A narrative history, volume 2: since 1865. (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
Hardman, J. (n.d.). The Great Depression and the New Deal. Web.
“Latino Americans, Impact of the Great Depression on.” (2019). Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. Web.
“Women, Impact of the Great Depression on.” (2019). Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. Web.