‘‘The boom of the 1920’s did not benefit all Americans’’. Explain how far you agree with this statement.
Not everyone did well during the boom in America. Most of the profits made by industry went to businessmen and those who had enough money to be able to buy shares and stocks. However the farming industry in America slumped as European farming recovered after the war. Also, American farmers had to compete with farmers in Argentina and Canada, as they were producing goods at cheaper wheat, and the same quality if not better. The American government had vetoed the bills that had been passed through congress to guarantee farm prices by President Coolidge. This caused many small farmers to go bankrupt. We also know that it was not a popular time for people living in the countryside in the 1920’s as over six million people left to live in the cities, which implies that the people living in the cities were having a much higher living standard than those who were living in the countryside. By 1930 over half of Americas population were living in major cities.
On the contrary to the countryside, in the cities people were benefiting from increasing share prices, new consumer goods, mass production- bringing the price of goods down, pay rises in industry and inflations in companies. It was a new and very comfortable life style. There were new consumer goods being produced all the time, and people who couldn’t normally afford them were able to buy them on credit and pay off the price over a period of time, paying a little bit back each month. Large business owners found tax cuts saving some of them over $400,000. The government thought that buy cutting tax prices there would be more profit in the companies, meaning that the profit would pass down the company and all would benefit.
However, it wasn’t only the farmers who were not benefiting from the boom, in some industries many people had gone on strike over working conditions and low pay; this shows us how the ‘laissez-faire’ idea of leaving companies alone, and low taxing on companies so the wealth would trickle down, was not going to plan, and not everyone in the industries was happy. From the coal miners’ strike in 1919-1920 Harding set up an inquiry into the conditions in the mines, and his results were largely in favour of the minors but no action was taken. We can see from this that the government was staying stagnant through the boom, as they refused to give farmers a guaranteed price for their goods, and did not step in to help the working conditions of the minors.
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As industries ‘boomed’ and grew, and living standards increased in the cities, more and more people became unemployed, in the farming industry. Also in North Carolina in 1928, male workers were being paid $18 dollars and women only $9 for a 70-hour week, at that time $48 a week was considered to be minimum requirement for a decent living standard. It has also been estimated that about 42% of Americans were living below the poverty line, and did not have enough money to pay for essentials such as food, clothing and housing. Also, even though the industries were growing, there were no new jobs available because everything was being mechanically produced and mechanising production, so those who had jobs were mainly well paid, but those who did not have a job, had little chance of getting one, and could not afford to participate in the new lifestyle created my mass production of consumer goods, and couldn’t afford what was being produced, even on credit.
There were other reasons that a lot of people were under the poverty line in America; the government had not fixed a minimum wage this meant that employees could be forced to work long hours for next to nothing, and as there weren’t many jobs available they were forced to work for what they could get. Also, trade unions were weak, so most attempts at trying to help workers were unsuccessful and went unnoticed, this also meant that there was little threat or demand for the government to do anything about the situations some people found themselves in. There was no state health system available, no state pensions, no unemployment pay, and no sickness pay. This would have meant that people would have to work for bad pay under awful conditions, and if they became sick or injured, there would be no support for their families and they would probably loose their jobs and have no way of getting another one.
It appears that the government did little to help the workers and a lot to help large business owners. In nearly every major strike action in the 1920’s the government supported the management against the workers. The Supreme Court declared that two state laws banning child labour were ‘unconstitutional’ and also banned laws setting a minimum wage for women workers. Many people lost faith in the unions and left when a strike action failed to lead to better working conditions and pay. By 1929 the number of union members had dropped from 5.1 million in 1920 to 3.6 million.
A lot of the Americans, who found themselves below the poverty line, were white Americans, however there was an even greater percentage of black Americans or Hispanic people and other members of the U.S.A.’s large immigrant communities. This was mainly because a lot of them had jobs in the ‘old industry’. The old industry was mainly manual tasks, many of which were being replaced by machines, at a cheaper price, so they lost their jobs. Black Americans generally had the least skilled jobs, so worked on farms, and as the farm industry was doing so badly from the competition and the demand from Europe falling short when its farming industry recovered after the war, found themselves loosing there jobs. Farmers had continued to produce more food than could be consumed and consequently prices began to fall. By 1930 farmers were selling their goods for less than the production costs, and governments were paying them to destroy their produce- to create less produce and more demand for the produce that would be left, encouraging the prices to increase. As all the older less skilled industries were being replaced by the newer technology, many immigrants, who had no choice but to take the less skilled jobs, found that their employers simply couldn’t afford to keep them on and so turned to sharecropping.
Sharecroppers had no land and no fixed job. Their families would just go onto the farms to help harvest the crop at harvest time. They were not paid anything but were given a share of the wheat to live off. This shows just how desperate some people’s situations were, and they had to live off the wheat until they could find some more income.
Black Americans also found themselves being persecuted by the Ku Klux Klan again. They had a high a high status in the American Government, as some of the members were politicians. They wanted to stir up hatred and prejudice against blacks, Jews and Catholics. The Klan was founded by Southern whites after the American civil war in 1866. By 1900 the Klan had died out. However in 1915 William Simmons, an ex-history teacher, re-founded the Klan. By 1919 all of the Southern states brought in ‘Jim Crow laws’ which stated that blacks should be ‘separate but equal’ they were kept apart in every public place, including trains, schools, prisons and restaurants. During the 1st world war thousands of blacks moved to the northern cities to do the new jobs the war had created. At first white people did not really mind, however the movement to the cities led to housing shortages and led to riots in the northern towns. In 1921 Simmons claimed the Klan had 100,000 members by 1924 this figure had risen too nearly five million.
However in the cities things generally were going well during the boom, the mass production of the car had enabled many Americans to go to places they had never been before. Also in the north black Americans had better chances of getting good jobs and good education. In New York and Chicago there was a small but growing black middle class. There was also a successful ‘black capitalist’ movement, encouraging black people to set up businesses. By 1930 almost all the shops in the South Side belt where blacks lived had black employees.
The popularity of jazz made many black musicians into high-profile media figures. The black neighbourhood of Harlem in New York became the centre of Harlem Renaissance, this was where musicians and singers made Harlem centre of creativity and attracted many white customers into the bars and clubs.
I feel that from all the information I have gained from my available resources I can say that I completely agree with the statement: ‘‘The boom of the 1920’s did not benefit all Americans’’. It is quite a general statement which is why I feel inclined to agree with it, as it is true that many American’s did benefit from the new industries, and were able to live a much higher standard of live, but this was only apparent in the major cities, with large industries and businesses, where people could afford to buy shares and stocks, and create a large demand for consumer goods, which lead to a rise in company share values, and the tax cuts meant there was more wealth in the company so some people, for example Henry Ford’s workers, found their wages increase. But a large percentage of Americans did not benefit from the boom for examples farmers ended up going bankrupt, and low skilled jobs were replaced by more efficient machines, so thousand of white, black and immigrant Americans lost theirs jobs. Many people were forced to live below the poverty line because the government did not aid those who needed it with security and funding, and as a result a lot of people became desperate, and forced to work in a low paid job under extremely bad conditions. So I feel that for the Americans who could afford to keep up with the industry, the boom benefited them, but those with a lesser social class, and lower paid/ less skilled jobs in the older industries, the boom bankrupted them and sent a lot of people into poverty.