Monday, November 28, 2016

Over the Hill, NEVER!

by Connie Cortright

This week's blog is a hard one for me to write. I am admitting to the world that I'll be retiring in a couple weeks. Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled to be quitting my job, but being old enough to retire is another matter.

Since I spend half of my life submerged in the 1920s-30s (just ask my husband), I decided to look into the topic of old age - not that I'm old. I found out lots of interesting information I'd like to share with you.

Life expectancy charts in 1930 predicted that men would live to age 58 and women to age 62. That means if I were living back then, I would have been measuring my coffin size this week. With a bit more research, I found out the reason those ages were so low was the infant mortality rate. Because so many children died before the age of 21, the life expectancy charts were not accurate. Whew!

Other statistics more accurately explain the life expectancy rate of people living in the early part of the 20th Century. These charts are based on people who actually lived through their childhood years. In 1940, 60.6% of the people who made it to 21 survived to age 65. Of that group of people, the women were expected to live 14.7 years longer and the men to live 13 years longer. So that would give me more hope.

What did people who actually lived to the ripe old age of 65 do back then? Of course, the statistics I found were for men since women didn't work outside of the home after marriage in those days. (They dedicated their lives to housekeeping and raising a family.) But in 1930, fifty-eight percent of men 65 and older were still working on their jobs.

There was no Social Security check coming in the door after a person retired, so people didn't have the option to retire at all. Most men worked until they were physically unable to work because the money was needed for survival. In other words, there were no retirement years to look forward to. Most people worked until they died.

In fact, some companies, railroads among them, started offering the elderly workers pensions because having them around got too dangerous on the job site. For the railroads, mandatory retirement was at age 70 with a pension from the company paid out after that. According to that, I have several more years to work before I can retire. Now I am depressed!

Then came the Depression. That changed things. People lost their jobs way before retirement age. Many older people moved in with their families because they had no other way to cope with the lack of funds.

When the elderly didn't have families to support them they had to move to the county poor house. There the elderly and infirm were institutionalized by the government and housed until they died. If they were physically able, the men participated in the farm work growing food for the people living in these institutions. The women were assigned to housekeeping duties until they couldn't manage it anymore. By all accounts that I saw, this was an awful situation to find yourself.

That was a big reason the government had to get involved in support of older people. By 1935 the government created a program called Old Age Assistance(OAA), which gave every man and woman $20.00 per month, matched by state funds. These funds helped the elderly stay in their own homes longer. OAA prohibited money to be paid to public institutions, including the poor houses. That was a way to get the poor houses closed down.

If the elderly were not able to care for themselves at home any longer, the $40.00 per month could be used toward their support in a group home setting. This was the birth of the "old folks home". These for-profit facilities sprung up quickly to accommodate the large number of elderly needing a place to live and not able to care for themselves. The OAA recipients were paid in cash, which was in short supply during the 30s, so people were eager to use unneeded bedrooms in their homes for that purpose and established these needed nursing homes to house the elderly.

And of course, we all know about the other program - Social Security - that started up in 1942. Social Security payments eventually took the place of OAA payments. Since that time the plight of elderly has improved dramatically.

After doing all this research of the elderly during the 1930s, I'm feeling much better about my age. Sixty three isn't old at all! In fact, I'll probably go out after I retire and kick up my heels to celebrate how young I am. Have a great week!

Information taken from several websites including: Economic History of Retirement in the United States and Elder Web

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Turkey Day

by Connie Cortright


       Thanksgiving traditions… lots of good food… family gathering… Macy’s parade… football games. How are Thanksgiving celebrations different today than they were in the 20’s and 30’s?
       
You may be surprised to find many of the same traditions we have today were already in place during this time period. 

        First of all, the national day of giving thanks for all the blessings we receive was started officially by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. He declared the last Thursday in November to be the day of thanksgiving. Prior to this date, each state picked its own day to celebrate. The last Thursday was used each year until 1941. President Franklin Roosevelt urged the Congress to change Thanksgiving Day to the fourth Thursday in November, as it is today.

       The tradition of giving thanks in a family gathering with lots of good food started way back with the Pilgrims, as we all learned in school. During the 20’s and 30’s, mothers and grandmothers worked much harder to get all the food ready for the family – at least before electricity came to the farm houses. Cooks were challenged by wood-burning stoves since they are hard to regulate the heat. I bet there were more burned pies or maybe turkeys back then.

       Macy’s parade… That tradition started during the 20’s. The parade started in 1920 by the employees of Macy’s Department Store in New York City. Many were immigrants and wanted to show their thanks for their adopted country. By 1927 the big helium balloons were added to the parade with Felix the Cat as the first one. The parade continued to grow in scope until 1934 when Disney joined the parade with the first Mickey Mouse balloon. It’s grown since then, except during WWII when the materials for the balloons could not be spared from war use.

       Last, but not least… football games… Football games were played on Thanksgiving Day at the high school level in the early 20’s. The NFL didn’t have Thanksgiving Day games until 1934 in Detroit. G.A Richards started this tradition with a game between the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions. The difference at that time was that men were not glued to the TV watching the game (TV’s didn’t exist back then). Instead they may have been glued to the radio listening to the plays of the game. The first NFL Thanksgiving Day game was broadcast on ninety-four radio stations around the country. By the way, the Bears won that game. 

      Hope you have a great Thanksgiving Day celebration this year with family or friends. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Wastin' Away Again in... Hooverville

by Connie Cortright



The Era of the Great Depression saw the rise of a phenomenon that is unknown to many people today, the "Hooverville."  Named after hapless President Herbert Hoover whose presidency was blamed for the bad economy, these shanty towns sprang up in major cities all over the U.S. during the early 1930s.

Hoovervilles were largely populated by families who had been evicted from their homes when husbands had lost their jobs and as a result couldn't pay the mortgage or the property taxes. The country was filled with homeless men without work along with their dependents. Without a permanent roof over their heads, necessity gave birth to the rude, crude squatters' shacks of the Hoovervilles.

The shanties in the Hoovervilles were made up of any material that could be found -- discarded wood, stones, cardboard, tin, tar paper, glass, or canvas. Basically, anything men could move to a spot and use for shelter found a home--built a home!--in the Hoovervilles. Men who were skilled in carpentry and had the wood to work with were able to construct shacks that kept out the rain and cold, but lacking skill or lumber, Hooverville residents used whatever was available to provide shelter from the elements.

As the years dragged on without any improvement in the economy, some Hoovervilles grew larger and took on an air of permanence. "Citizens" organized themselves and tried to work together using their various skills to help each other. Some shantytowns even had their own mayors and sanitary committees.

Sadly, other locations turned in the opposite direction and became magnets for alcoholics and criminals, rampant with disease, dung, flies, and human misery. The prohibition years only served to exacerbate the problems.

City governments sometimes tried getting rid of these unsightly suburbs by having the police raid the residents on the excuse of looking for alcohol and illegal activity. When this happened the shanty towns were often burned and their people dispersed. But a new Hooverville would rise in another location as the dislocated relocated--they had no where else to go.

There were no government programs or social "safety net" as we have today that could help the "Hoovervillians" buy food or pay for housing. They were left to their own devices to fend for themselves;  many became bitter and angry. The poor and sick felt nothing but hopelessness.

Beginning in 1933, Congress enacted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's various New Deal programs to help the unemployed and homeless. This helped to improve the conditions that fostered the Hoovervilles, but it took the advent of World War II in 1941 to finally break the back of the seemingly intractable unemployment situation so that the Hoovervilles at last disappeared as the country marched to war.

Our present economic situation is different because of the government programs today that help the poor and homeless. Without these, it would be likely that we would see more 21st century shanty towns since the unemployment rate is still so high. But it all comes at a price: our national debt is soaring and a mentality that looks to the government to solve all problems and support all needs is growing. Still, here's hoping that we don't ever "waste away again in 'Hoovervilles'"!

Information for this article taken from : United States History website