Friday, January 2, 2009

Life During the Great Depression

Written by Kimberly Eden, Heath's Row: A History of Herman and Beula Heath

The Great Depression hit the U.S. hard but almost no other state was hit as hard as Utah. Utah was the ninth state to receive the most aid from the federal government and ranked fourth in unemployment with nearly 36 percent of the state without jobs. The national average was 25 percent. The wage level declined 45 percent and the workweek by 20 percent by 1932. By the next year 32 percent of the population received their basic necessities through government aid. By then 32 of the 105 banks in Utah had failed and the number of business failures increased to 20 percent.

Few people held jobs long enough to receive unemployment compensation and by the time they were able to procure another job, they were broke again. For many the solution was farming, but the drought conditions made this hard also. During this time the Great Plains suffered an extended drought causing dry windstorms. The overall effect became known as the Dust Bowl and many farms failed leaving people homeless. Utah was part of this Dust Bowl and the rainfall during the year of 1933 was only 51 percent of the normal. The lakes receded and many people had limited use the the water supply.

Gov. Henry H. Blood and George Dewey Clyde worked together to find a solution. Clyde reported that the state's irrigation water supply was at 35 percent and the likelihood of them producing enough food for sheep and cattle that year was slim. The report eventually was sent to the federal government and President Roosevelt eventually sent $600,000 and FERA (Federal Emergency Relief Administration) sent $400,000. The money was used to drill wells, develop springs, line irrigation ditches, and lay pipeline. Also Deer Creek and Pine View dams were built. The drought did not end that year until November. The crops were not rescued, but the brush for the cattle and sheep was benefited. Farming was not a productive enterprise during the depression and many farmers were lucky to break even.

"Hoover Cafes" gave free food to the numberless hungry, but nothing seemed to improve the situation. Divorce increased, birth rate decreased as did the marriage rate. Protesters lined the streets in Salt Lake City, more expressly during the spring of 1931 - the year Herman lived there for first grade with his father. Herman lived in an orphanage from 1926-1929. He lived with his grandmother for a short time and back with his father during 1931-1932. Herman's father worked for the railroad. Five cents was the normal wage and one had to work a long time to earn 1 dollar. According to the Consumer Price Index the dollar in 1935 is worth !14.68 today. Herman remembers school buses had two rows of seats- one on each side and a coal burning stove in the back. Herman's father was quiet and tired of raising kids according to Herman. Their home in Green River did not have indoor plumbing.

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