Dividing Citizens: Gender and Federalism in New Deal Public Policy

By Suzanne Mettler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO From Dual Federalism to a New Deal

These unhappy times call for the building of plans that . . . put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

-- PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt, radio address,
Albany, N.Y., April 7, 1932

The New Deal was carried out under the most tumultuous economic circumstances in the nation's history and amid turbulent social conflict. After the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929, the economy began a long descent lasting for the next four years. Manufacturing output fell by half, unemployment rose from 3 percent to 25 percent of the labor force, more than nine thousand banks closed their doors, and personal incomes declined by more than half.1 Unemployment led to the spread of malnutrition, disease, and shanty towns and, according to sociologists of the era, threatened family life, in as much as men's authority and stature stemmed from their roles as breadwinners.2 Mobs looted stores in search of food; jobless persons organized through the communist-led Trade Union Unity League demonstrated in cities across the nation; and groups engaged in "rent riots" aimed to forestall evictions.3 The traditional poor-relief apparatus of the states and localities were strained to the breaking point by the depth of the crisis.4

____________________
1
American Social History Project, Who Built America? ( New York: Pantheon, 1992), 2:318-22.
2
On the threat of unemployment to gender roles in the family, see Mirra Komarovsky, The Unemployed Man and His Family ( New York: Dryden, 1940), pp. 1-48; and E. Wight Bakke , Citizens without Work ( 1940; reprint, Hamden, Conn.: Shoe String, Archon, 1969), pp. 109-242.
3
Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward, Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (Random House, New York: Vintage, 1979), pp. 49-55; Michael Goldfield , "The Influence of Worker Insurgency and Radical Organization on New Deal Labor Legislation," American Political Science Review 83 ( 1989): 1257-82.
4
James T. Patterson, The New Deal and the States: Federalism in Transition ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), chap. 2; Piven and Cloward, Poor People's Movements, pp. 60-62.

-28-

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