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Gallup Vault
Gallup Vault: Gloomy Outlook During the Great Depression
Gallup Vault

Gallup Vault: Gloomy Outlook During the Great Depression

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Ninety years ago this month, the New York Stock Exchange collapsed in an event commonly known as Black Tuesday. The events of Oct. 29, 1929, precipitated the worst economic downturn in U.S. history and a depression that would cloud the nation for a decade.

Gallup was founded in October 1935, right in the middle of the Great Depression, and many of its earliest questions asked Americans about employment, the economy and the government's role in reviving it.

In 1937, few Americans (15%) reported owning stocks or bonds listed on a stock exchange -- a much smaller percentage than is the case today -- perhaps because some were scared off by the events of 1929, but more likely because few Americans had money to invest.

Americans' predictions for the economy were decidedly gloomy in the 1930s. In 1936, two in three Americans (67%) believed that yet another depression was on the horizon, and an even greater 83% believed that poverty would never be "done away with" in the U.S.

Americans Resisted Blaming Presidents

Cities across the country became dotted with shantytowns, where unemployed, evicted and poverty-stricken people built makeshift huts for shelter. The shantytowns became known as "Hoovervilles" -- a dig at former President Herbert Hoover, whose presidency had barely begun when the stock market crash occurred and who received much of the blame from critics.

But most Americans in 1938 resisted labeling the economic crisis with Hoover's name -- two in three Americans said it wasn't fair to call the slump the "Hoover depression." A smaller majority (53%) rejected labeling it as the "Roosevelt recession/depression," as then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal had gone into effect.

Roosevelt is largely credited with stabilizing the U.S. economy with his sprawling New Deal in the 1930s. But reviews of his approach were mixed at the time, as Americans' views on the government's newly enhanced role fluctuated. Six in 10 Americans in 1935 said the government's expenditures for relief and recovery were "too great." Yet in 1937, most Americans (54%) felt the government should repeat Roosevelt's spending policies if another depression struck. That same year, few Americans sought to do away with the Works Program Administration (21%).

Although exactly how the Great Depression ended is debatable, the economy rebounded in the 1940s as the U.S. fought in World War II. But the Depression had left its mark on Americans. In 1944, more than one in four (27%) reported that they or their head of household had struggled to find employment during the Depression -- and the vast majority of these respondents (72%) said they were out of work for a year or longer.

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