Brighton Beach Memoirs by
Peter Loya

The Great Depression (1929-39) was the deepest and longest-lasting economic downturn in the history of the Western industrialized world. In the United States, the Great Depression began soon after the stock market crash of October 1929, which sent Wall Street into a panic and wiped out millions of investors. Over the next several years, consumer spending and investment dropped, causing steep declines in industrial output and rising levels of unemployment as failing companies laid off workers.German aggression led war to break out in Europe in 1939, and the WPA turned its attention to strengthening the military infrastructure of the United States, even as the country maintained its neutrality. With Roosevelt’s decision to support Britain and France in the struggle against Germany and the other Axis Powers, defense manufacturing geared up, producing more and more private sector jobs. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 led to an American declaration of war, and the nation’s factories went back in full production mode. This expanding industrial production, as well as widespread conscription beginning in 1942, reduced the unemployment rate to below its pre-Depression level.

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