The Depression ruined schemes for such baubles and pleasures as the new car and the winter vacation. But it also at best disrupted and at worst (and often) destroyed carefully wrought plans for so-called investments in the future: the substantial house in the stable neighborhood, the savings account, and, most important, what was then and remains the cynosure of American middle- and professional-class family life--a college education, or a certain kind of college education, for the children. Even today, that investment largely determines the opportunities parents seize or forgo, the towns they move to, the rhythm of a family's daily life. The Depression rendered any careful planning for the future, an activity that depends on predictable conditions, all but impossible, or at least crazy-making.This is all far less romantic than the images hoboes and apple-sellers and the idea that World War II fixed everything.
Again, most earners in the middle classes were still employed, but their livelihoods were in daily jeopardy; throughout the country even those at the apex of the professions--doctors and lawyers--saw their incomes drop by as much as 40 percent....They'd never get back to where they'd been, to the foundation on which just a few years before they had assumed their future would be built (not unlike, say, parents of today who have for years carefully contributed to now-clobbered 529 plans for their adolescents). Disaster was always imminent; the future was at best chancy and diminished.
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