Our view: Great Depression offers great lessons

DKS Editors

There are 11.5 million Americans still alive who lived through the Great Depression. They have some lessons to teach us about making it through a tough economy.

Unemployment is increasing in the United States. It reached 7.2 percent at the end of December. In Ohio it’s even worse – 7.8 percent. This state lost 89,000 jobs in 2008.

That’s 89,000 families losing a source of income. And that number is still growing.

It’s true the current economic recession is tame compared to the decade that followed 1929, during which 25 percent of American workers were unemployed. But it’s also true that many people will soon find it more difficult to afford basic needs, leisure items aside.

Parents may find themselves postponing buying new pants or shoes for a growing child. Milk and gasoline may become coveted commodities.

Luckily, the Great Depression elicited government programs that still exist to help with an economic downturn, such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

But the New Deal wasn’t all that came out of the Great Depression.

Gloria O’Loughlin was a teenager as the repercussions of Black Tuesday were unfolding and 88 years old when the Wall Street Journal spoke with her for a Nov. 15 article that explored the memories of several Greatest Generation members.

“If you were sick, they helped you. If you were hungry, they’d feed you,” O’Loughlin said in the article.

She wasn’t talking about a government relief effort or a humanitarian organization. She was talking about her neighbors.

A lot has changed since O’Loughlin sought help and was helped by the people around her during the depression.

She lived in a time where the middle class left the city during the economic boom after World War II because they could afford cars to commute from suburbs. She lived in a time where homes were constructed with garages attached – now a person could drive in and go inside without having to wave at his or her neighbor. Conspicuous consumption resurged in that time as the Joneses set the pace for the neighborhood.

Now, could O’Loughlin even know if her neighbor was sick or hungry? Does anyone?

It’s our responsibility as good neighbors and as humans to find out. As living becomes inevitably more difficult in this country because of lost jobs and pay cuts, perhaps people will come together out of necessity. Perhaps people will pool resources. Perhaps people will acquire materials not to impress others but to share with others.

O’Loughlin’s generation understands what community means. This generation could learn from them.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.