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Social and Economic Problems After World War II

The American People in 1945

Having borne the brunt of the Great Depression and World War II, the American people experienced serious social and economic problems. In 1945 the economic situation was such that there were just too many industrial workers who were unemployed and very few people could claim to have adequate financial security for the future. Farmers were in bad economic shape since their agricultural products could not be sold, and the national debt of the country was at such high levels that it eroded one third of the government budget in interest payments. The Wall Street was heading towards a crash in view of the increased speculative tendencies and easy availability of money for such purposes. There was mistrust amongst immigrants and they were finding it very difficult to adjust with the American lifestyle in the face of increasing discrimination and segregation against Black Americans throughout the country. The year 1945 is remembered in the USA primarily because the European part of the Second World War ended with the surrender of Germany in May 1945 and Japan in September 1945. The consequences of victory in the World War II were sweet and ironic for the American people since millions of people in the country had to swallow their fears and face the consequences in the best possible way. The war having finally ended in 1945, there was hope in America as signs of economic development began to appear.

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Rise of the Cold War

After the end of World War II there was a struggle for influence and power amongst the Western Allies headed by the USA, and Communists headed by the Soviet Union. After the War, The US and the Soviet Union soon became the two superpowers primarily because the two were for long known to have contrasting ideologies and national interests because of which their alliance against Germany had started to show signs of disintegration even before the end of the war. Very soon the US and its western allies began to feel that their security and national interests may be threatened due to the expansion of Communism and decided to restrict such ambitions by forming several alliances that were directed against the annexation aspirations of the Soviet Union and its communist allies. As a consequence many countries of the world became allied to the US or the Soviet Union and those that did not align with any of the blocs, came to be known as nonaligned or third world countries. To safeguard each other, countries signed treaties such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which was formed in 1949 to safeguard Western Europe from Soviet aggression. This was countered by the Warsaw Pact in 1955 at the instance of the Soviet Union and its allies. During the Cold War period there was no direct armed conflict between the US and the Soviet Union although both sides continued in the struggle that came to be known as the cold war between communist and non-communist powers. The cold war tensions were seen to be reducing during the 1960s and by the end of the 1970s the term “cold war” that was coined by Bernard Baruch in 1947, fell into disuse but the rivalry between the two power blocs continued. The cold war finally came to an end in the late 1980s with the collapse of the Soviet Union whereby fifteen independent nations were formed.

Post War United States

During the decade and a half after World War II, the US had extraordinary economic growth and with the return of prosperity the country began to consolidate its position as the richest country of the world. The country’s Gross Domestic Product, which is considered as a realistic measure of all goods and services produced in the country, grew from $200 billion in 1940 to $300 billion in 1950 and to over $500 billion by 1960. An increasing percentage of American citizens began to come within the purview of the middle class after they suffered from the pecuniary conditions during the war. The primary source of such growth was the remarkable speed with which the automobile industry began to grow which had increased by four times from 1946 to 1955. The country experienced a massive housing boom which was made possible with the affordable mortgages that were easily available to the servicemen who returned after the war as also to other citizens on very convenient terms. There was a phenomenal increase in the spending on defense with the escalation of the Cold War which further fuelled rapid economic growth.

People at Mid Century

Very soon, by the 1950s workers in the country found their lives changing since the industrial structure of the US had changed considerably. There were lesser workers engaged in the manufacture of goods and larger numbers got involved in the provision of services. Many Americans began to hold white collar jobs as teachers, managers, office employees and sales people. Companies began to offer wages that were guaranteed and employment on long term basis along with several benefits, and with such changing circumstances the class distinctions began to disappear with the undermining of the labor militancy. However farmers had a difficult time since gains in productivity resulted in consolidation of agriculture and farming came to be characterized with bigger holdings and more technology. Consequently small farmers could not compete and started shifting to urban areas in search of other opportunities. A notable shift was observed in the extraordinary growth of the West and Southwest regions of the country and cities such as Miami, Tucson, Houston, Albuquerque and Phoenix grew rapidly in economic activity and prosperity. People began to shift their residence from the inner cities to the suburbs where affordable housing was available for larger families that resulted from the baby boom in the post war years. With the growth of suburbs businesses also began to shift to new areas, consumer patterns changed with the appearance of larger shopping centers and shopping became a pleasurable experience as Americans began enjoying the higher qualities of life. A large number of highways were created in catering to the needs arising from the increasing suburban living and the Highway act of 1956 allocated $26 billion to make over 64000 kilometers of high quality roads to connect all parts of the nation. Television played a very important role in impacting the social and economic patterns in the country. It was aggressively marketed after the War which is evident from the fact that in 1946 there were only 17000 sets and within three years people were purchasing 250,000 sets every month and by 1960 75% families owned at least one set. An average family watched TV for about five hours every day and popular shows such as Mickey Mouse Club, Howdy Doody Time and Father Knows Best began to influence American Society. With the increasing broadcast of sophisticated advertisements for different products more and more Americans began to get aware of the large array of goods available to lead a better life.

References

The Post War Economy. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Social and Economic Problems After World War II'. 20 October.

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