Great Depression Changes Everything

Family life and working conditions drastically changed during the Great Depression. Nearly half of the working age population became unemployed in some parts of the country. Even young, healthy people lost their jobs and watched their savings dry up. (Federal Writer's Project, 1938) President Roosevelt quickly initiated numerous Federal Emergency Relief (FERA) programs after his election, and his Committee on Economic Security estimated that by the end of 1934 there were 750,000 single persons and 4.2 million families receiving some sort of emergency relief. Counting all the members of the affected families, nearly 19 million people, 15% of the total population, were dependent on FERA programs. (Committee on Economic Security,1935)

The problems hit the elderly particularly hard. Those who were retired or close to it watched a lifetime of savings disappear, and they weren't well enough to work or couldn't find the jobs that would allow them to rebuild their lost investments. That made many of the elderly completely dependent on their families, but hard times for younger family members often meant little or nothing left to provide for their parents.