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LESSON SEVENTEEN

1935: What Should the Government Do about Unemployment and Poverty?

Introduction: The stock market crash of October 1929 came as a surprise, putting and to lively economic growth throughout the nation. Milwaukee was especially hit hard by the depression: between 1929 and 1933, the number of people who had jobs in the city fell by 75%, and 20% of people began to receive direct relief from Milwaukee County. Adding insult to injury, a severe drought settled onto the Midwest in the early 1930s, crippling Wisconsin agriculture. While early relief efforts succeeded in helping many urban workers, New Deal programs for farmers were largely ineffective. In the spring of 1933, dairy farmers in the Fox Valley went on strike, withholding milk, closing down cheese and butter factories, and barricading roads in hopes of raising prices. Federal and state government tried many solutions to these problems, the most famous of which is Social Security. This wellknown federal program was, in fact, crafted by Wisconsin thinkers with roots in the state’s Progressive tradition. Its principles and its mechanics were both new to many American citizens, and the federal government worked hard to get private citizens and employers to enroll. In its first three years, over 30 million men and women signed up for retirement benefits, and more than 2 million handicapped and impoverished citizens began to receive assistance throughout the country.

Background Reading: “Social Security: The Wisconsin Connection” http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/topics/socialsecurity/ and “Depression and Unemployment” h t t p : / / w w w . w i s c o n s i n h i s t o r y . o r g / t u r n i n g p o i n t s / t p 0 4 5 / ? a c t i o n = m o r e _ e s s a y

Document to Analyze: “What’s In a Number?” http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1001

Who, What, Where, When, Why: This small pamphlet folds and unfolds accordionstyle, and uses cartoons to explain how the new Social Security program worked. It was issued by the federal government about 1941 to educate workers and employers.

Related Documents: Perkins, Frances. “The Roots of Social Security.” ttp://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1010 and “Reminiscences of Depression Days” http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1068

Vocabulary: unfamiliar words are defined at www.wisconsinhistory.org/dictionary

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