GROWING UP IN THE GREAT DEPRESSION OF THE 1930’S

My wife and I keep getting surveys from the Democratic National Committee on what the party should be doing to improve the economy, get elected, and improve the party’s chances in the next election. I do not particularly like surveys because they are too simplistic to be of much value to anyone and often do not allow one to express a detailed thought on how to solve the long term problems of the nation. So, I thought I would take this opportunity to share my experiences with being born during the great depression and the consequences of growing up during the depression.

First of all, there are many families who are so poor that they would not recognize the difference between one depression versus another. These families come from every nation on this planet. Many will remain poor during their entire lifetimes, and they are not all lazy, ignorant and poor managers of their resources and time. It is difficult to escape poverty even with the best on intentions and the best work ethics. A person often has to have a helping hand or a burning desire or an unusual opportunity to escape poverty.

I grew up in a family of eight children, with five older sisters and two younger brothers. Each of my brothers and sisters have different memories of how hard they had to work, who had the best opportunities, and other details too numerous to mention. None of us had much in the way of material possessions, but we did have enough to eat and were able to go to school. My father and mother were both raised by their fathers because both of their mothers died when they were children, so their family was important to both of them. My father started working at age 14 years. He worked on ranches in Wyoming, and at odd jobs relating to the construction industry, so by the time he was an adult, he had developed skills in building and the construction trades that kept him self-employed most of his life. During the Depression he worked on the development of the irrigation districts and projects that were sponsored by government funds under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt Reconstruction Programs. My father followed the construction of irrigation projects starting in Minatare, Nebraska, to the Black Canyon Dam in Idaho, to the Owyhee Dam in South Eastern Oregon, to a dam in Central Oregon, an irrigation project in Baker, Oregon and finally back to Vale, Oregon where he and my family spent twenty eight years before moving to Colville, Washington in the 1950’s. Because of the nature of the work during the depression, such as twenty hour days, my father became ill in his forties and was not expected to live. He still had to work and by the time he reached his fifties, his health had improved and he was able to take a job as maintenance foreman for the Vale Oregon Irrigation District where he worked until age 66 years before he retired. My father died about two weeks before of his 88th birthday. My Grandfather was born in 1842, so he was eighteen when the Civil War began, and he was also 88 years of age when he died. This makes me the third generation from the Civil War. I grew up on a farm which we homesteaded, meaning the farm was in sagebrush and had to be cleared before it could be farmed. We had to build a house, improve upon the land, and farm it for seven years before the deed was transferred to my father and mother. Like many of the families the children had to work to enable us to survive. We first farmed with horses which I learned to harness and hook up the farm machinery at an early age of about nine. From that time forward, I took on more and more responsibility until the farm was sold in about 1955. I did most of the farming with the help of my middle brother. My sisters were all gone from the farm by 1948, so the family of eight was reduced to three. I started college by the fall of 1952, but I still spent my summers farming during that time which included helping to milk cows, manage crops like haying and growing potatoes, corn and other crops. My mother’s life was not easy during these years because she spent much time raising a huge garden, canning fruits and vegetables, sewing, ironing, cooking and cleaning house. Her lifelong hobby was growing vegetables and flowers. She loved the latter and continued this hobby until she died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease(ALS) at the age of 74 years.

When I hear the Speaker of the House, John Boehner complain about having to sweep floors in his father’s tavern, I cannot have too much sympathy for him because all of my classmates grew up in far more demanding circumstances than he did because we started early in the morning doing chores and had to start in doing more chores once we got home. I have never considered any kind of physical labor demeaning. My day started at 5 a.m. and finished at 10 p.m. We had to be on the school bus by 7:30 a.m. and got off at 5:30 p.m. I would get a snack before starting chores because the time from noon until our night time meal at 8 to 9 p.m was long. I had no time for homework because by 10 p.m. I was exhausted. While my grades suffered because of missed homework assignments, my learning did not. Once I started to college life became easier because for the first time in my life I had time to concentrate on assignments other than work. I compared notes with one of my classmates and found out that we were just one of many families who were poor. The great depression started in 1929 and lasted until after World War II for most of us. We had food, a few clothes, but very little money. In fact, I spent about two hours looking for a 50 cent coin that I had lost while taking a path across a field on the way home from school. My mother earned extra money selling eggs to the local grocery store, so she depended upon the money she earned to supplement our meager income. My first wife had more clothes in High School than all five of my sisters combined. I never talked to her or our children about my family circumstance because it would have been futile.

This current recession started in the year 2000 when George Bush II was appointed by the Supreme Court as President because of the failure of the State of Florida to conduct fair elections. He was again appointed because in the following four years nothing was done by the government nor the Courts to make certain we have fair elections so this time it was the State of Ohio chose to ignore fair elections. At present the Supreme Court is at it again by passing the most unfair and stupid bit of legislation in the history of this nation by making a corporation a person when it sided with the Court Case of Citizens United. We now have a Bush Supreme Court continuing its unconstitutional pattern of supporting the rich against the poor by supposedly allowing a corporation free speech. Now we have the Koch Brothers holding secret meetings of the rich people, which include Supreme Court Associate Justices Scalia and Clarence Thomas prior to their vote to make a corporation a person. This has the appearance of a conflict of interest where two Associate Justices attend secret meetings having to do with making a corporation a person and then casting votes in favor of this misguided and stupid law. One person called in and asked if the corporation had to have a birth certificate which should give the “birthers” something new to chew on. The present depression was caused by another set of laws which were put in place during the 1930’s. One was the Glass-Steagal Act which prevented insurance companies and banks from selling securities. This law was voted out of existence by the Republican Party in 1999 and was signed by President Clinton. It should be reinstated because there is no regulation in the Insurance or banking industry which keeps them from squandering a person’s money. It is a case of the mouse guarding the cheese. Another was the lack of supervision of agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency which was practically starved to death by lack of funding. Yet another was the lack of supervision of the banks, insurance companies, the stock market traders, the lending agencies, the lack of funding of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the policy of open warfare by the Bush Administration against organized labor and against public school teachers which included the opening of Charter Schools which were supposed to revolutionize education in the United States. I learned recently that in some of the Charter Schools you are required to teach ten to twelve hours per day and are not allowed to join a union. Having worked in the field of education for 32 years, I can attest that it is a demanding job that does not pay much compared to other occupations. has more and more students with mental and behavioral problems, and a greater non-teaching personnel who do little but burden the teaching staff with programs that do not work.

At present, due to the Koch Brothers who combined have a net worth of about 104 billion, we have Governors in the States of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, whose campaigns have been financed by the Koch Brothers, with the express purpose of doing away with labor unions, both public and private, and privatizing as much of government as possible so that they can control more industries. We have the wife of Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas working for the Tea Party and earning over $800,000 dollars but failing to pay any taxes on those earnings. Maybe she thinks she is a corporation and does not have to pay taxes. In fact, one of the reasons for the current recession is that corporations do not pay taxes on their earnings, which is strange because they are now persons and should have to pay taxes like any other person or go to jail. The Supreme Court has done more to continue to extend the current recession by supporting big corporations than any other branch of government. We either have to wait until they die or try to impeach them and have them removed from office, but that will not happen because we would have to have a House of Representatives with a majority to do so or a coalition willing and able to work together. Currently, the Chief Justice John Roberts is not doing his job of keeping the Associate Justices Thomas and Scalia under control. So the current recession may well continue for 18 years as it did for my family, and the new persons, Corporations, will continue to sell this country to any other nation it chooses. If the Middle Class continues to disappear due to the lack of patriotism by the Supreme Court, the new persons–the Corporations–and the lack of concern by our other branches of government and our own citizens, we may well become a nation where 99 per cent of our citizens live in a constant state of recession or depression.

The primary difference in the current depression and the one in the 1930’s is the lack of agencies such as the CCC’s, the NYA, the WPA, and the PWA which helped to get people, particularly the young unemployed citizens, out of the cities and into the vast areas of the United States to rebuild our infrastructure. We currently need high speed rail, bridges rebuilt, schools rebuilt, and scores of other tasks that could be done by our corporations, if we had some which were interested and patriotic enough to do something for this nation instead of ones such as China and India.
We need to change the tax code so that the politicians, corporations, and the rich pay their fair share of taxes. We also need to prevent the wealthy and the corporations from setting up off shore accounts as a means of escaping taxation and using such accounts to claim they are an international corporation in order to avoid paying taxes.