Now Hiring: The Feminization of Work in the United States, 1900-1995

By Julia Kirk Blackwelder | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Hard Times
and White-Collar Growth
THE 1930s

O n "Black Tuesday," October 29, 1929, the Great Crash struck the New York Stock Exchange, precipitating a decline in the stock price index from 432 in September, 1929, to 58 in July, 1933; worse yet, it precipitated the Great Depression, which endured for a decade, defying all attempts to end it. In fact, the definitive end of the Depression came only on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombing of U.S. military installations at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii quickly plunged the United States into its second global war in less than thirty years.

The Depression proved the source of lingering trauma for Americans and changed their ideas about the meaning of work. Controversies about work rights during the Depression centered on gender roles, and women paradoxically proved both winners and losers in employment by the end of the 1930s. Three economic phenomena occurred side by side in the 1930s: first, the decade-long collapse of commerce and industry shattered the lives of millions of working Americans, battering them with layoffs, short-time work, and wage cuts; second, the Great Depression did not destroy capitalism or even arrest its evolution; third, both despite and because of the economic collapse, the structural transformation of the industrial economy continued--specifically, the transition from an industrial- to a service-dominated economy continued unabated and perhaps even accelerated. Clearly, the Depression accelerated many changes long underway, even though the Crash and the ensuing Great Depression did retard technological innovation in many industries.

As the Depression tightened its grip, job competition increased across all occupational sectors because the unemployed lowered their standards for acceptable work. Some groups of workers, however, bore disproportional burdens. Overall, educated Americans fared best as public and private administrative activities ex-

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