A Look at the Great Depression and at Other Recessions

Our country is going through a major economic crisis as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But this is not the first time we have faced a difficult downturn, nor is it the worst one we've seen in our history. In fact, many of us have grown up hearing our grandparents' stories about what it was like to be a child during the Great Depression.

Our children are growing up with similar experiences to those of their great-grandparents as they watch their parents lose their jobs, search endlessly for new ones, and struggle to pay the bills during the meantime.

Our country has weathered several depressions and recessions, from as far back as the 1800s. There were depressions in 1807, 1837, 1873, and 1893. The Great Depression lasted from 1929 to 1939. There have also been several recessions, including the recessions of 1974 to 1975, 1980 to 1982, 2001, and 2008. Recessions generally occur when the gross national product declines for at least two consecutive quarters, although the National Bureau of Economic Research uses a different, more precise definition. The NBER also explains the business cycle and how economic analysts determine the dates of recessions.

During each of these times of hardship, people have had to learn how to cope with the economic crisis and to survive it. History shows us that surviving economic crises is possible, and that they do come to an end.

Surviving the Great Depression

The Great Depression of the 1930s is an extreme example of how it's possible to survive an economic crisis. Many attempts, including the following, were made to try and improve the state of the economy and end the depression.

University of Washington:The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA)
As soon as he assumed office as president, Franklin Roosevelt started a work relief program with the help of Harry Hopkins and Frances Perkins.

Modern American Poetry: About the Great Depression
Roosevelt modified America's economic structure in several ways to try to end the depression. His principle strategies involved greater government regulation and enormous public-works projects—both included in his "New Deal" platform.

American Experience: The Great Depression
Roosevelt's New Deal "created a liberal political alliance of labor unions, blacks and other minorities, some farmers and others receiving government relief, and intellectuals." It changed the experience of childhood for thousands of Americans, helped people acquire better financial habits, and irreversibly modified the way American citizens understood their government.

The New Georgia Encyclopedia: Great Depression
Many farmers had to sell their farms and move to the cities to make a living. Others became sharecroppers on the land they had once owned. Dependence on cash crops increased.

Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture: Great Depression
Many communities survived through charity and innovation. Entertainers held benefits, cities and towns built "Hooverville" camps, restaurants donated table scraps, and organizations formed soup lines.

American Experience: Riding the Rails
Many children left their families due to poverty and traveled around the United States, hopping freight trains. "These young itinerant Americans were all searching for a better life; what they found was a mixture of freedom, camaraderie, misery, and loneliness."

Digital History: The Human Toll Other people became closer because of the Great Depression: "families had to devise strategies to get through the hard times because their survival depended on it."

Learning From Their Stories

Many survivors of the Great Depression still remember what life was like during this period in our history.

Waluga Junior High School: Other Novels About the Great Depression
Many authors, some of them survivors of the Great Depression, have written stories that can teach us how to survive the current economic downturn.

Story Circle Book Reviews: Personal Legacies
One such story is Personal Legacies: Surviving the Great Depression, by Robin Edgar. Edgar compiled the memories of several different survivors to create her book. Most of the people she interviewed were in their 70s at the time.

Studs Terkel: Recordings From Hard Times
Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel is another compilation of Great Depression survivors' stories.

Minnesota's Greatest Generation: Mary Joy Dean Breton
The Minnesota Historical Society provides survivor stories from people such as Mary Breton, who grew up during the Great Depression.

History Matters: Lending a Hand
Depression survivor Lora Albright told an interviewer from the Latah County Historical Society her personal stories about helping hobos and other needy travelers.

Penn State On Demand: Survival
The Pennsylvania State University provides videos of Great Depression survivors' stories.

"Always Lend a Helping Hand": Sevier County Oral History Project Interviews
Students in Sevier County, Utah, interviewed many survivors and produced a database of information about life during the Great Depression.

Surviving the Recession

The survivors mentioned above remember what life was like during one of the hardest times in our nation's history and remember that their ordeal did eventually come to an end. After many years of struggling and surviving, America finally recovered from the Great Depression, in large part thanks to the economic stimulus of World War II. But this certainly wasn't the last economic crisis that our country would face. Several recessions followed, and each one brought its own hardships, including higher unemployment, lower interest rates, and a weak housing market . The unemployment rate alone is enough of a hardship to cause mental health issues among those who are out of work. Americans are currently facing these and other economic troubles as we once again struggle through a recession.

Recession.org: United States Economy & Global Economic Recession
Some of the issues America is facing during the current recession include plants and factories closing down, banks going out of business, and the housing market declining.

KnowHow NonProfit: Fundraising in Tough Times
During the recession, different sources pitch in to help those who are struggling. They offer grants, free consulting for not-for-profit organizations, and many other opportunities for advice and support.

PRSA: Lessons for Surviving the Recession
One survivor offers some helpful advice to anyone new to a recession. His suggestions include cutting expenses, celebrating successes, and finding ways to lend a helping hand.

Harvard Business Review: Surviving a Recession—and a Wildfire
Adam Werbach, global CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi S, compares surviving recessions to fighting forest fires: you have to let them burn periodically, prepare to survive them, and

Inc.: Surviving the Recession
Entrepreneur Norm Brodsky provides down-to-earth advice on surviving the recession, using a specific business as an example.

American Public Media: Entrepreneurs Surviving First Recession
Several young entrepreneurs give suggestions for surviving the recession.

MIT Sloan Review: Recession Proofing Your Organization
A U.K. website aimed at charities provides tips and strategies for dealing with simultaneous funding cuts and rising demand.

These are just a few of the many different perspectives on how to survive our current economic crisis—and on what state our economy is in. If we've learned anything from history and from our family and friends who have experienced it, it's that we can survive the tough times and reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

These are just a few of the many different perspectives on how to survive our current economic crisis—and on what state our economy is in. If we've learned anything from history and from our family and friends who have experienced it, it's that we can survive the tough times and reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

About the Author

Written by Michael Marcin of Crest Capital. When Mike was little, there was no such thing as the internet (or color TV). Today, he oversees all operations and finance for Crest Capital, a national equipment finance lender. Mike writes on a variety of business topics including equipment, vehicle, and software finance and associated tax implications.