The Nickel and Dime Decade: American Popular Culture during the 1930s

By Gary Dean Best | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER EIGHT Coping

THE FAMILY BUDGET

The 1930s posed unusual challenges for housewives. Unemployment or underemployment of the breadwinner created new stresses for the family, not the least of which was finding food for the table while making all other budgetary ends meet. A National Resources Committee study reported that during 1935-36 there were 39 million consumer units-- families or individuals--whose annual incomes averaged approximately $1,500. Two-thirds received less than that amount, while one-third got less than $780. One in thirty earned $5,000 or more. Of approximately $50 billion available for consumer spending, Americans spent $17 billion on food, $9.5 billion on housing, $5.25 billion on clothing, $5.3 billion on household operation, $3.8 billion on automobiles, $1.6 billion on recreation, and about $1.5 billion on household furnishings and equipment. Tobacco, which soothed nerves and dulled hunger pangs, took nearly twice as much from consumer pocketbooks as either books or education. 1

Farmers had already experienced a depression from the early 1920s onward. That was bad news for farmers and their families but good news for urban consumers, because it meant low food prices at their neighborhood markets. When the depression spread to the rest of America beginning with 1930, the shock was somewhat cushioned because the price of food, already low, fell even further. But unemployment or reduced hours of work meant that a growing number of families were forced to look for ways to feed themselves at even less cost, without sacrificing essential nutrients. By 1933 an estimated one-fourth of Americans were

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