THE PROMISE OF PARITY
The Depression hit New York farmers hard. When the economy collapsed, agricultural prices fell faster than the general price level, and farm incomes dropped to a point where cash receipts often failed to cover the costs of production. In 1932, a New York milk producer complained:
Our farms' fixed charges, such as interest, insurance, and taxes, are as high, if not higher, than they were two years ago. . . . These set charges we have to pay on a farm mean cash, and something has to be turned into cash. They won't take a cow for your taxes any more. Three years ago we could sell a cow that would pay all the taxes but today it would mean three cows at the market we have, provided someone would pay you cash. 1
To stave off bankruptcy and the loss of their property, farmers stopped buying needed groceries and clothes, and they started keeping school-aged children at home as a source of cheap labor. One upstate farmer reported in 1932:
Present returns are enough for not more than a mere existence. The boys and girls more and more are being used to take the place of a hired man.
Farm families may apparently be well fed, but many are nearly destitute of suitable clothing, shoes and other present day necessities of life.
Some people living on farms lacked even proper nourishment. "One man came in last Saturday and said he hadn't had anything in his house for his wife and children to eat except fruit and vegetables and milk, and he wanted to know if I could not get a sack of flour for him," a rural legislator told his Albany colleagues. 2
New Dealers in Albany and Washington instituted a number of programs to relieve rural distress. For farmers, the Welfare State sought "parity"--the restoration of