Wall Street Protest February 19, 1938
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer is a theme that has played out time and again over the course of American history.
The Great Depression put millions of Americans out of work. It wasn’t just about the rich versus the poor. It was about survival and a serious shortage of jobs.
Eighty years ago today, this is how a jobs protest was described as it reached Wall Street:
Unemployed March on Wall Street
New York, NY – Members of trade and relief workers unions parading in the rain up Wall Street today in a mass demonstration against unemployment and alleged and inadequate Federal, State, and City relief allowances. The demonstration, in which some 7,000 took part chanting “we want work”, was staged under the auspices of the Trade Union Committee on Unemployment and WPA and the Workers Alliance. The marchers included members of unions affiliated with the C.I.O., the American Federation of Labor and independent unions. 2/19/38 credit: Wide World Photos
American unemployment during the Great Depression reached a high in 1933 when one in four Americans were out of work. Between 1934 and 1937 unemployment slowly declined to 14%. But another dip in the economy in 1938 saw unemployment rise again to almost 19%.
As with most protests, nothing positive resulted from this 1938 demonstration. 40,000 people were expected to march, but the heavy rains greatly cut down the turnout. The New York Times and New York Herald Tribune both estimated the crowd at under 5,000.
The economy would eventually pick up and jobs would be created in the 1940s, but not the way these marchers envisioned.
It would take another three years and America’s entry into World War II in 1941 to effectively end unemployment in the United States. The cost? Over 16 million Americans served in World War II and just over one million were killed, wounded, or declared missing in action.