12
The Greater Good

THE STOCK MARKET crash was but the overture to an extended period of economic devastation. In 1931, the bond market plummeted. A year later, the mortgage market succumbed. By the fall of 1932, both industrial production and national income had fallen precipitously. Steel plants were running at only 12 percent of capacity. Industrial construction had declined to a mere 7.7 percent of its 1929 level. Institutional figures, viewed together, are overwhelming:

Between 1929 and 1933 the GNP fell from $103.1 billion to $55.6 billion. . . . Between 1929 and 1932 more than one hundred thousand American businesses failed, the total net profits of private corporations dropped from $8.4 to $3.4 billion, and total industrial productivity fell off 51 percent. lion 1929 to 1932 the value of both American imports and American exports declined by more than two thirds. 1

Beneath the surface of these statistical catastrophes, the human toll was enormous. The industrial labor market had evaporated, and by 1932 between 12 million and 17 million people--a quarter to a third of the American workforce--were out of work. Among those still employed, many held part-time jobs at reduced wages, enduring a state of relentless insecurity. Farm income, which had been severely depressed throughout the twenties, was decimated even further, falling from $11 billion to $5 billion nationwide between 1929 and 1932. Banks were failing, and with them, a multitude of life savings became irretrievable. Many people who had ridden the bubble of prosperity during the twenties were now plunged into desperate times. Homeless

-233-

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