Post War Economy Essay, Research Paper
After years of living with a strict budget because of the Great Depression and the war, during the post-war period, Americans wanted to get their hands on anything they could get, especially automobiles and television sets, which advertised for other products during commercials. They also purchased more refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, and cameras than ever before. Electric can openers, electric garage door openers, and electric pencil sharpeners appeared on the market and quickly became part of the new way of life. This increase in goods and services that characterized the postwar period, gave Americans the highest standard of living the world had ever known. The United States, home to just 6 percent of the world’s population, produced and consumed nearly half the world’s goods.
In 1944, the GI Bill of Rights was passed by Congress. Which resulted in the greatest wave of college building in the nation’s history and many states vastly increased their support of higher education. It also offered low-interest mortgages to veterans who wanted to purchase homes (which helped the housing industry). This bill, allowed Americans achieve a standard of living that was generally better than that of their parents.
During the postwar years, corporations wanted to be bigger, so the business mergers created conglomerates which were firms that had holdings in a variety of unrelated industries. This rapid corporate growth during the 1950s gave an increase of new job opportunities and a new lifestyle for the nation’s white-collar workers. There were also a big growth in the number of secretarial and clerical workers, bank tellers, and telephone operators, as well as service workers in the insurance, transportation, and retail sales areas. The hospitality and recreation industries needed more service workers withe the increased number of bowling alleys, skating rinks, movie theaters, hotels, and restaurants. Also the number of cars, appliances, radios, and television sets that were purchased by consumers was so big that it created a need for skilled mechanics and repairpeople. For the first time in the history of the United States, service workers began to outnumber the manufacturers.
Having an automobile in this period was a big deal because Americans were on the move and the automobile became indispensable to their way of life. Auto dealers sold a record of 58 million cars during the 1950s. Like Americans were always in the car, this led to the invention of fast-food drive-ins and the drive-in theaters. It also led to the development of an extensive interstate highway system.
During the 1950s, 85 percent of new home construction took place in suburbia. The rapid growth of suburbia was for different reasons; some wanted to escape the crime and the congestion of city neighborhoods, others fled because of their prejudices against African Americans and Hispanic Americans, etc. They were located on the fringes of major cities. they had low population densities and were affordable (the GI Bill helped). The bad thing about suburbias was that they refused to sell homes to minorities like African Americans and Hispanic Americans.
The nation’s population and the fertility rate increased during this era. There was a baby born in the United States every 7 seconds. This rapid population growth was known as the baby boom, which continued until the mid-1960s. It occured because the emphasis on family reflected a desire for close social and emotional ties. It also fueled the economy further and helped sustain prosperity. The construction industry also prospered because with all these new babies, bigger houses and more schools were needed. These “baby boom” kids grew up in a better United States because there was more entertainment (television sets) and medical science was more advanced than ever (vaccines).
Women’s roles were to be housewives and mother, nothing else. The education system and many television shows discouraged women from having careers, they emphasized that the woman was to be at home doing the chores and taking care of kids, while the man would go out to work. During the war though, many women had to get jobs for various reasons, but when the war ended they were encouraged to go back home and leave the jobs for the men. Some left but many stayed. Women held jobs in clerical, banking, and secretarial positions. Even though they were able to work, many jobs were low-paying, temporary, part-time, or held no opportunities for advancement because the higher level positions belonged to men.
The reconversion to a peacetime economy brought problems though. During the war, civilian paychecks included plenty of overtime pay and the government policies had kept a lid on prices. When postwar wages failed to keep up with high-rising prices, blue-collar workers started doing strikes and work stoppages, refusing to work until their demands were met. But despite some workers, many others continued to prosper. Real income increased more than 20 percent during the same period and the working-class Americans began to accumulate discretionary income.
Even though the United States appeared to be so “perfect,” there were millions of people living in poverty that no one really knew about it and if they did, barely anyone took the time to help. They were “invisible” because of all the middle-class people moving to suburbs, the inner cities became isolated islands of poverty and no politician bothered to speak for them. The urban poor of the 1950s, who flooded the cities during and after World War II, included displaced white people from Appalachia, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans.
The two biggest minorities were African Americans and Hispanic Americans, which were faced with long-standing racial and ethnic prejudice and discrimination. The smallest were the Native Americans, which were the poorest, most ignored group. Unemployment rates were staggering and when they migrated to the cities, they encountered much of the same discrimination and poverty that African Americans and Hispanic Americans faced.
In 1953 the federal government adopted a new Native American policy called “termination.” The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 had attempted to restore lands to Native American ownership; but, the purpose of this new policy was to end the reservation system and terminate all federal services to Native American nations. The result of the termination policy was the loss of hundreds of thousands of acres of Native American lands to agricultural, lumber, and mining interests. This policy, like nearly every Native American policy before it, ended up victimizing Native Americans.
The postwar era was very good because more inventions were made, people were happier and had more money. Many businesses and corporations benefited and grew during this period. Women finally were able to have jobs, maybe with not every benefit men had, but at least it was a start. The baddest thing about this era was the discrimination that minorities experienced but there will always be some type of discrimination and at least it wasn’t as bad as before.