Depression to 1970s

The Great Depression of the 1930s affected virtually every New Yorker. Middle-class families were forced to live paycheck to paycheck, heads of working-class families struggled to find work and pay the bills, and the already poor often fell into destitution and homelessness. Widespread suffering during the Depression, however, led to local and national reforms that created a welfare state, providing a safety net for future generations of Americans.

  • Between 1950 and 1965, the number of jobs in the New York garment sector declined by 29%.
  • Families cut expenses during the Depression—milk consumption in New York City declined by a million gallons a day.
  • Over the 1930s 464,000 Puerto Ricans entered New York City.
    Puerto Rico
  • Between 1965 and 1975, 200,000 housing units were lost due to abandonment and arson.
  • During the Great Depression, the unemployment rate of blacks was 50%, double that of whites; over the 1950s the unemployment rate for blacks would remain double that of whites.
  • In 1934 around 15% of New York City residents were receiving public relief.

The Bergstroms' Story

In 1938—in the midst of the Great Depression—Mary Bergstrom made a difficult decision. She would have to give up her nine-month-old child so that others could care for him. Earlier that year, Mary had married Carl Bergstrom, the boy’s father. With unemployment increasing once again, neither Carl nor Mary could find full-time work.

Where were the Public Housing and Urban Renewal Projects

This map shows the public housing and urban renewal projects developed by the city from the 1930s through the 1960s. These projects transformed the landscape of New York City and contributed to a movement of poor families within the city. Map courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection.

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