Archive for Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dark memories revived: Residents recall country’s worst economic crisis

October 14, 2008


Defining a depression

An economic depression generally involves a sustained decline in the economy resulting in major increases in unemployment, credit restrictions and deflation.

Economists use the "gross domestic product" to measure the size of the economy. GDP is the sum of all the money that people, businesses and governments spend on products in a country. Two quarters of negative GDP growth is generally considered a recession; there is no one definition of a depression, but it is much more severe and prolonged than a recession.

The 1929 stock market crash is considered the start of the Great Depression. The nation did not recover until the government started spending and creating jobs to fight World War II.

They were children during the 1930s when the United States went through the Great Depression.

Now they are in their 80s and 90s, and as they follow the news about the nation's current economic crisis they are having flashbacks from their childhood. They worry that another depression is coming.

"I never thought I'd live to see two depressions. It brings tears to my eyes because I know what is going to happen," Lawrence resident Julia Galas, 89, said.

Galas grew up in Chicago, where her family lost their house because her parents couldn't make the mortgage payments.

"My father was very sad about it. We had a nice bungalow," she said. "There was nobody bailing us out."

Galas' father also lost his job at the Armour meat company and the family moved into an apartment.

Jean Umholtz's father also lost his job during the Depression. He was a bridge builder in Arkansas. Her family moved to her grandparents' farm near Topeka.

"They were dairy farmers and they did fine," Umholtz, 78, of McLouth, said. "They delivered milk in a wagon."

Getting by

Americans just made do with what they had, what they could make and what little they could earn.

Instead of buying coal to heat his home, Chuck Benedict's father used corn. Corn was cheaper, said Benedict, 82, of Lawrence. His father owned a gas station in McLean, Ill. He was able to keep the business going.

Nobody asked for handouts, those who were interviewed said. The landlord who owned the apartment building Galas lived in accepted partial rent payments, she said.

"Everybody paid something," she said. "Nobody got evicted because everybody was in the same shape."

Galas' family also was lucky because even though her father lost his job at Armour, the company still supplied its former employees with free meat, bread and canned fruit for a year, she said.

"That was a chance for a man to get back on his feet," she said.

A different attitude

Some families weathered the Depression better than others. That's how it was with Scottie Lingelbach's Topeka household. Her father had just started a mortgage business when the economy went bad.

"He never in his career had a foreclosure, but he never made a loan for less than 20 percent down," Lingelbach, 86, of Lawrence, said.

Lingelbach remembers that Americans had a different attitude toward money and material in the 1930s than many have today.

"I just think there was not the entitlement mentality that we have developed in recent years," she said.

Many who lived through the Depression have continued the conservative habits they developed then.

"Everything I have in my house but the mattress came from a thrift store," Umholtz said.

But Umholtz worries about the younger generation and how they would handle a depression. She has a son who has been without a job for a year.

The current economic crisis will improve, but it will take years, Lingelbach said. She is irked that the country's leaders, especially Congress, let the economy and financial executives get out of control.

"I have great faith in America," she said. "I think we will weather this, too. Unfortunately it may be after I'm dead and broke."


saoirseglen 9 years, 8 months ago

While in 1929 we lacked many of the social safety nets that we have in 2008, we have similar conditions in as much as credit being extended without a good basis and ability to repay and basing growth on theoretical rather than real value.Yes, the government stepped in rapidly this time, but at what cost? In the very short term it all looks fine, but we don't know what the long term effects will be. We also don't know where we will be sitting in the economy at the end of this week.It is good to be prudent when times are rough and uncertain. Those who think being cautious and referring to history as examples of potential negative outcomes is a bad thing I don't believe really understand history. It may not be possible to have another Great Depression with the same precursors, effects and recovery actions, but that does not mean that we cannot have another one caused by different events with similar or worse outcomes for a time.

yankeevet 9 years, 8 months ago

Only the pro football; baseball; and basketball players; CEO's; and Congressmen will have all the money. However; they already do..................

BigPrune 9 years, 8 months ago

"She is irked that the country's leaders, especially Congress, let the economy and financial executives get out of control."Always pay cash. If you don't have the cash, don't buy it. American consumers spend 30% more when they use a debit card or credit card. Cash makes you feel the pain. Never balance your checking account online because it is never up-to-date.My grandparents grew up during the depression and they paid cash for everything because they saved. They even paid cash for their house! How many could say the same? Not a bad way to live. Live like it's the Great Depression!

rtwngr 9 years, 8 months ago

Hennypenny! Hennypenny! The sky is falling! The media is once again fueling a falsehood. Markets grow and markets have corrections. There are enough checks in place that a depression, as was seen in the 1930's, is so far from reality that any discussion about it is merely changing oxygen into carbon dioxide.

George_Braziller 9 years, 8 months ago

Another way to phrase it could be "live within your means." ________"Not a bad way to live. Live like it's the Great Depression!"

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