What Types of Jobs Were Cut During the Great Depression?

by Michelle Leach; Updated September 26, 2017

At the height of the Great Depression, if you were unemployed, you were among the roughly quarter of America's working population in the same boat, according to statistics provided by the nonprofit Roosevelt Institute's New Deal Network. Though the depression set off by the great stock market crash of 1929 sent shock waves through all sectors, some industries felt its impact more than others.

Breakdown

According to U.S. Census figures from 1930, the total population hovered near 123 million people. It's estimated that of the workers who were not farmers, nearly 40 percent were without jobs during this period, according to Gene Smiley of the Liberty Fund's The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.

Magnitude

If you were a business person, regardless of sector, who had invested in the market during the 1920s, you were immediately impacted by the stock market crash of 1929, according to the Library of Congress, which referenced a restauranter and inexperienced investor who lost it all with the crash. Even those who didn't have money in stocks at the time were impacted -- as bank runs occurred when average consumers panicked that the banks would run out of money. Ultimately, businesses in general were shuttered because they could no longer pay workers to operate them, according to LoC information.

Durable Manufacturing

If you worked in a factory or in other manufacturing pursuits, you weren't in a good place during the late-1920s going into the 1930s. According to "The Concise Encyclopedia ..." production fell more than 35 percent in just one year from 1929 to 1930, and again by the same amount the following year. This resulted in growing job losses in durable manufacturing. Eric Arnesen, in his 2007 "Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working Class History," specifically refers to high rates of joblessness among machinists and aerospace workers, noting that in 1918, driven by war-time production, these workers' union boasted 300,000 members; in 1933, the number had fallen to 50,000--of which, he notes, nearly half of these didn't have jobs.

Automobiles

If you were working in the auto industry going into the greatest of economic depressions, you were also in a less-than-stellar position; according to economists David Rhodes and Daniel Stelter. That's because sales of new cars plummeted 75 percent from 1929 to 1932, at a loss of more than $190 million, which in 2010 dollars amounts to nearly $3 billion. Prior to the depression, auto companies were profiting by some $413 million--or a growth rate of nearly 15 percent. The weakening of the auto industry, and resulting layoffs, was only made worse when what was once a highly profitable segment of the industry --its luxury cars -- came to a screeching halt.

About the Author

Since 2000 reporting and writing has taken Michelle Leach to Michigan, Nebraska, Washington, D.C., Chicago, London and Sydney, Australia. Her stories have appeared in various media outlets including NBC's "The Today Show," Reuters, Chicagoland dailies and network affiliates across the United States. Leach has a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and a bachelor's degree in journalism/politics from Lake Forest College.