A man willing to work, and unable
to find work, is perhaps the saddest sight
that fortune's inequality exhibits under the sun.
Thomas Carlyle, Chartism (1839)

Unemployed Steelworker and his Family


This industrial economy is not kind to the workers. Besides harsh working conditions and low pay, there are the debilitating effects of strikes and layoffs. The Great Depression is easing but is not over.

In eleven months, the Japanese will bomb Pearl Harbor and the man will be back to work. The military's appetite for supplies and equipment will be so large that most of the mills will operate twenty four hours a day and seven days a week. The labor surplus will become a labor shortage.

The threat of strikes will end for the duration of the war by federal fiat and worker patriotism.


The husband may be out of work but the wife and mother is not. Cleanliness is clearly part of her lifestyle.

The room was built before electricity. There are no outlets in the wall and both the iron and radio are plugged into an outlet either built into or screwed into the overhead light fixture.

The child sleeping in the chair will stay home until he is ready for first grade.  Kindergarden and daycare are not available to this generation.


Democratic president Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal are their hope for better times.

The American Communist Party and some minor socialist groups are competing heavily for the favor of the employed and unemployed poor. The politics of the day are as chaotic as the economics.

Photo Credits: John Vachon, January, 1941
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