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September 15, 2007


I am a "baby-boomer," born in 1957, but my parents, born in 1929 and 1931 respectively, have told me stories all of my life about what it was like to grow up during the Great Depression.
Mother's people were townspeople. They did have chickens and a milk cow, though. Even though my grandmother had inherited property and capitol from her family, they had to make every penny count. They had 4 children, my mother's older siblings, in college during those years. I think it's important to note that my grandparents DID NOT expect the federal government to assist them in any way. They did not expect assistance to help pay their children's college tuition, and they did not expect the government to put food on their table, a roof over their head, gasoline in their automobile, or clothes on their backs. They raised a vegetable garden every year, and my grandmother canned the yield from that garden, AFTER sharing with neighbors who were less fortunate. My grandmother was a R.N., but was not employed as such. She was a full time mother and homemaker, despite the fact that during the depression my grandfather's salary was reduced to a mere $100 a month--to feed a family of 6---yep, that's right--WITH NO GOVERNMENT HELP!!!
My paternal grandparents were farmers. Graddaddy raised hogs and chickens, and planted a huge vegetable garden every year. They also had fruit trees. Again, they were self-reliant. Granddaddy did receive a government pension by virtue of being a disabled veteran from World War I, but he certainly didn't expect Uncle Sam to help him provide for his wife or the five children they had at that time (the youngest child was born in 1944).
This is the main way in which the Great Depression changed our culture here in the United States, I believe. When FDR brought in his "New Deal," in which the government provided the basic necessities of life for families, people slowly began to change their beliefs about the responsibilities of the federal government. Nowadays, many, many people look to Uncle Sam to come to their financial aide in regard to so many things; education for their children, mortgage assistance, rent assistance, relocation assitance, insurance, and the list goes on and on. But it was during the Great Depression and Roosevelt's administration that the "buy now, pay later," philosophy began to creep into the American psyche. The Great Depression generation believed in "Pay as you go," and were willing to do without extra things if they didn't have them. This also filtered from the religious devotion of people at that time. "Be thankful for what you have; don't complain about what you can't have, don't resent those who have more, and help those who have less," was the message being preached from many a pulpit during the Great Depression.

$100 a month during the Great Depression was a great deal of money! These stories about how great the people were during the Great Depression because "they didn't depend on the government to help them" are invalid because they paid very little, if any, income taxes to the US government and certainly no Social Security taxes. Today, the US government takes as much as 28% of our earnings for federal income taxes and much more for Social Security and Medicare. If I were allowed to keep ALL of my salary and not pay taxes or payroll taxes on it, maybe I could survive without government intervention! Maybe these people who long for "the good old days" would like to have the Depression-era US army maintaining our nuclear forces. Comparing today's economy with the 1930's is comparing apples to oranges -- but I will say this: we are in for a hurt of trouble, and we are going to need to fall back on some of the wisdom of those who lived and survived the Great Depression or we are going to have thousands, perhaps millions, starve to death.

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