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Letter: Lessons from the Depression

Obviously the author of the letter writing about Roosevelt and the Great Depression was too young to have lived through it.

The lowest estimate of unemployment when Roosevelt was elected was 25 percent. In some cities it was 80 percent or 90 percent. Homeless men would beg to work in order to eat. The popular song was “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

The Great Depression began in October 1929 with the stock market failure brought on by the conservatives who didn’t like regulation. Hoover, afflicted by the same ideology of his predecessors, struggled to no avail.

Roosevelt’s first act was to declare a “bank holiday” and close all the banks that hadn’t failed for three days to stabilize the economy. His first Fireside Chat was to urge people to trust the banks instead of their mattresses.

The first National Recovery Act was overturned by the conservative members of the Supreme Court. The second attempt, the Wagner Act, was passed in 1935. This gave workers the right to bargain collectively and established workers’ rights. Other things overturned by the Supreme Court included a minimum pay (25 cents per hour) and a 44-hour work week. Additionally the court rejected the child labor laws.

The laws came quickly which established jobs for many. They ranged from huge, such as the Hoover Dam and the Tennessee Valley Authority with its 35 dams, to the new portion of my high school. We not only built a good physical infrastructure, there was work for artists, writers, photographers and teachers. My brother, handicapped from polio, received radio training enabling him to be a radio operator in the merchant marine during World War II.

The author of that letter accused Roosevelt of being a socialist. Perhaps he was — you may have noticed the word “social” in Social Security. That one act gave us a small pension, unemployment insurance, minimum pay — and I haven’t seen anyone who is eager to forego those benefits.

Frankly I believe that Roosevelt saved our country from the fate of the two countries that chose dictators as their answer to the Great Depression.