Times Were Tough During The Great Depression Of The 1930's

Updated on Mar 05, 2021. Originally added on Jul 18, 2016 by Kathy Pinna
Looking at these photos of the 1930s Depression era, life seemed so hard. Around 15 million in the U.S. alone were unemployed, and half of the banks had failed. Life was especially hard for those who were older and who lived in rural America (where the Depression and the Dust Bowl dealt a double whammy).

Background: In 1928, President Herbert Hoover's campaign slogan was "A Chicken in Every Pot and a Car in Every Garage." Unemployment was 3.2% and only 51.9% of eligible voters voted. The Great Depression began with the October 1929 stock market crash in the United States and soon spread worldwide. In 1932, FDR's campaign slogan was "Happy Days Are Here Again." By the time Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933, unemployment was 24.9% and the stock market had lost 90% of its value. The American people had a hard time ahead - these pictures show some of their stories. (You can click on any photo to read more details about the photo.)

Times Were Tough During The Great Depression Of The 1930's

Oklahoma "ghost town"

Caddo Oklahoma

Between both the Depression and the Dust Bowl, many small towns were decimated.

1937 Mississippi

Greenville, Mississippi

Sharecroppers had to become cotton workers.

1935 Arkansas

Ben Shahn photo - Cotton Pickers in Arkansas 1935

No longer sharecroppers, they had to become day workers - cotton pickers on a plantation. This photo was taken at 6:30 in the morning.


1938 chart of lost jobs

Chart: Employment Lost in Depression

In non-agricultural occupations, from 1929 - 1938. Millions of jobs were lost. The total US population at the time was around 129 million.

WPA Administrator, 1938

WPA Administrator Corrington Gill

Testifying about the millions of people who need help. Doesn't he look distressed? It must have been a very difficult job with so many out of work.

California, 1937

King City, California

The caption says that Mexicans used to do this work but during the Depression, the jobs went to "white workers".

Working in the pea fields, 1937

Refugee from Oklahoma

This woman wasn't young and it was hard work! Or maybe the work made her look older?


1939 "roadside camp"

Elmer Thomas

Tending the fire and putting lard in a frying pan. Life of many people who lived on the road or in migrant camps during the Depression.

1938 miner's shacks

Miners' Shacks West Virginia

Coal mine workers' homes during the Depression.

1940 trailer

Mrs Robert R Reynolds and daughter

No running water so they got running water for their trailer from a nearby house.

1937: Kentucky coal miners

Thomas Ferguson, Coal Miner

Workers were protesting and being shot by Harland County deputy sheriffs. This is the bloody shirt of one of the miners who was shot.

Congress cutting WPA funds

Crowd at a WPA Workers Speech

1939 SF - workers at a protest to the cutting of WPA funds. The WPA had been established by the Federal government to provide jobs.

Howard St, San Francisco, 1937

Skid Row, San Francisco 1937

This was "Skid Row."


3 rooms, $15

Rooms for rent San Francisco 1938

1938 San Francisco - it would probably be $3500 today! (Mission District)

Weslaco, Texas 1939

Home of former white labor contractor

Home of a day laborer during the Depression in Texas

Have photos that you'd like to see included? Share your photos or click "next page" below to see more photos from the Dust Bowl.
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