Last Hired, First Fired: How the Great Depression Affected African Americans

Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60, New Madrid County, Missouri, 1939. (Credit: Arthur Rothstein/FSA/The Library of Congress)


Lasting from 1929 to 1939, the Great Depression was the worst economic downtown in the industrialized world. While no group escaped the economic devastation of the Great Depression, few suffered more than African Americans. Said to be “last hired, first fired,” African Americans were the first to see hours and jobs cut, and they experienced the highest unemployment rate during the 1930s. Since they were already relegated to lower-paying professions, African Americans had less of a financial cushion to fall back on when the economy collapsed.

The Great Depression impacted African Americans for decades to come. It spurred the rise of African-American activism, which laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The popularity of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal program also saw African Americans switch their political allegiances to become a core part of the Democratic Party’s voting bloc.

African-American unemployment rates doubled or tripled those of whites.
Prior to the Great Depression, African Americans worked primarily in unskilled jobs. After the stock market crash of 1929, those entry-level, low-paying jobs either disappeared or were filled by whites in need of employment. According to the Library of Congress, the African-American unemployment rate in 1932 climbed to approximately 50 percent.

Full article at History

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