Industrial growth has created vast opportunities for new labor, and immigration to the United States is at its zenith. In several years the number of new immigrants exceeds one million, the bulk of them from Southern and Eastern Europe. The Progressive movement, also at its peak, has spurred state-level rules on labor, including occupational safety and protection of children.
Labor standards advance at the federal level: The Department of Labor is established and child labor is controlled, a prelude to a ban. War strengthens the anti-alcohol movement, as beer is associated with Germany. The 18th Amendment to the constitution, enforcing Prohibition, is ratified in 1919. The following year, the 19th Amendment is passed, giving women the right to vote.
Prosperity occurs amid isolationism. The postwar recession drives unemployment up. In response, immigration quotas imposed in 1921 are tightened in 1924 and 1927 and privilege Northern Europeans. The racist Ku Klux Klan gains political influence; lynchings plague the South. Rural blacks begin to migrate north, where the Harlem Renaissance and rise of jazz illustrate diversity in city culture.
As the Depression deepens, somber food lines snake through American cities, and unemployment soars to record highs. With the stock market bubble evaporated and rural America in ever deeper crisis, the national spirit is broken. President Roosevelt goads Americans that there is "nothing to fear but fear itself" and begins regular radio broadcast "fireside chats."
With the economy stabilized, the programs of the Second New Deal focus on workers and farmers. All told, the New Deal puts thousands of unemployed to work in infrastructure and conservation projects. Social security is established, and programs begin to clear slums and finance and build public housing.
The New Deal entrenches workers' rights, including the right to organize and collectively bargain. The 1937 Fair Labor Standards Act sets a minimum wage, maximum working hours, and forbids child labor. Although "Big Steel" accepts the unions, "Little Steel" fights them until Memorial Day 1937, when a protest at Republic Steel in Chicago sees activists killed and their cause highlighted.
War brings the compulsory draft along with women's auxiliaries and other mobilization measures. More than 100,000 Japanese-Americans are interned in remote camps between 1942 and 1945; Italian- and German-Americans, however, are spared this fate. The federal government quells coal strikes and urban racial riots. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 ushers in the atomic age.
War's end and growth spark a demographic explosion: the Baby Boom. Planned developments around the Northeast such as Levittown remedy the housing shortage and launch America's suburbanization. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act curbs some labor rights and bans the closed shop. Truman pushes for civil rights laws and enforcement tools, banning discrimination in federal hiring and contracts and the military.
Housing policies increase home-ownership incentives and expand public housing projects. The civil rights movement gains momentum with the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott of 1956 and the struggle to desegregate Southern schools. Martin Luther King Jr. and organizations like the NAACP and SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) gain prominence. White opposition in the South is fierce.
President Kennedy stirs citizen pride ("Ask what you can do for your country") and ambitions, such as placing a man on the moon in 10 years. The government is sympathetic to the growing civil rights movement, as race conflict worsens in the South. At the 1963 March on Washington, King extols the dream of a prejudice-free society. Kennedy's murder sends the nation into shock.
President Johnson focuses on domestic affairs, calling for a War on Poverty and later, a Great Society. He passes a series of social policy reforms including health care programs and a range of anti-poverty measures. The 1964 Civil Rights Act is a landmark in achieving racial equality, but resistance in the South sparks continued violence, while unrest spreads to the Northern inner cities.
Antiwar, hippie, and racial movements all crest: 1967 sees the "Summer of Love" in San Francisco and race riots in Detroit and Newark, while 1968 brings with it the rise of the Black Panther Party, the assassinations of King and Robert Kennedy, and the chaos of the Democratic convention in Chicago. The social ferment will have a profound legacy; a "neo-conservative" movement develops against it.
Against a backdrop of continued antiwar and urban protests, NASA fulfills Kennedy's commitment with a successful human landing on the moon. Nixon passes the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and other social legislation. The Weather Underground and other fringe groups wage urban terrorism. Vietnam veterans return from the war in waves; many are deeply shocked and have trouble readapting.
With the Vietnam War winding down, the draft expires and the military becomes all-volunteer. After the 1973 "Roe v. Wade" decision, battle lines are drawn over abortion as the "pro-choice" and "pro-life" movements form. In the climate of U.S.-USSR detente, American and Soviet astronauts conduct a joint mission: The stakes of the "space race" shift from political to scientific.
The effects of Watergate, Vietnam, stagflation, and the energy crisis all contribute to a "malaise" and a loss of confidence in government. Local movements spread to cut property taxes, sometimes jeopardizing school funding. Anti-nuclear activists call for a weapons freeze and oppose nuclear plants. The Iran hostage crisis completes the sense of a nation beleaguered.
Ronald Reagan's charisma and the tax cut and rollback of many government programs capture the public mood. In his reelection campaign Reagan speaks of "Morning in America." The religious right resurges. In many states abortion and death penalty battles grow fierce. Reagan's firm showdown with striking air traffic controllers signals a retreat in union strength.
Much of America enjoys the Reagan revolution, but poor and urban communities feel stress. Crack cocaine sweeps the cities; the "war on drugs" swells prison populations but does little to halt drugs' spread. Homelessness surges and spreads into the middle class. First observed in 1981, the AIDS epidemic takes hold in the general population.
Deadly race riots erupt in Los Angeles in 1992 after the acquittal of white police officers in a brutality case involving African-American Rodney King; 50 people are killed. President Clinton's first year is marked by debate over health care reform, which ultimately fails, and by an uncomfortable compromise on the issue of gays in the military, the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
Despite opposition among Democrats, Clinton pushes through major reform of the welfare system. Welfare recipients must accept transitional "workfare" positions that critics decry as unstable and exploitative. A wave of similar reforms is in progress at the state level. At the other end of the spectrum, the "new economy" boom mints instant millionaires in an orgy of technology-firm public offerings.
George W. Bush becomes president amid controversy, but his presidency is soon generally recognized as legitimate. The September 11, 2001, crisis strengthens national unity in the face of terrorist threats. A wave of patriotic fervor sweeps the country, with flags displayed at every turn. A sense of unease is palpable as Americans cope with airport delays and increased public security measures.
Unemployment rises while global tensions and war with Iraq breed fear of terror threats amid government exhortations to remain vigilant. Large segments of the public challenge the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, and antiwar demonstrations are held across the country. Economic woes force many states to slash social programs.
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