Many historians refer to the stock market crash of 1929 as the beginning of the Great Depression. However, it wasn't until a few years after the crash that the nation felt the full effects of this dramatic economic downturn. In 1933, unemployment in the United States approached 25 per cent, according to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Census data from that era offers a wealth of information about the jobs of the 1930s, before the Depression pushed the unemployment rate so high.
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According to the 1930 Census data, just under 10.5 million Americans aged 10 and above were engaged in occupations relating to agriculture. These occupations included farming, either by owner farmers or tenant farmers (also known as sharecroppers) and those engaged in picking produce. Migrant farm workers moved with the harvest patterns, following work throughout the region or even the nation.
Mining, Gas and Oil
Just over 1 million Americans were engaged in what the 1930 Census referred to as the "extraction of minerals." This group included those working in the mining of coal, copper, gold, silver, lead, zinc and iron, as well as those working in quarries, salt works, and gas and oil wells.
Transportation and Communication
Almost 4.5 million Americans were engaged in occupations associated with transportation and communication of all types. According to the 1930 Census data, steam railroads employed approximately 1.5 million people, about 422,000 worked in automobile maintenance and repair, and just over 18,000 were engaged in air transportation. Livery stables accounted for a mere 9,642 jobs by that time. The postal service employed about 283,000 and telephone and telegraph companies had a combined total of just over 578,000 employees.
Well over 1 million people worked for textile industries, with women and girls making up about half of the workforce. Among these were cotton, hemp, jute and linen mills, as well as silk and wool mills. Also in this category were mills devoted to knitting, lace and embroidery. Factories engaged in textile dying, finishing, and printing. Some produced awnings, sails and tents, while others made rope and cords of different types. Those manufacturing carpets were also important sources of employment in the textile-associated industries.
789,846 people worked in the manufacture of clothing of various sorts. Well over half of those employed in the clothing industries were women and girls over 10 years of age. Corset factories employed just over 15,000 people. 22,898 people worked in glove-making factories and 34,770 people were employed in the making of felt hats. Shirt, collar and cuff factories employed just over 68,000 people.
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- Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930, Population, Volume V: General Report on Occupations
- United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Compensation and Working Conditions:Compensation from before World War I through the Great Depression
- New York Times: Works Progress Administration