This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable

The Daily Need

Hard times then, hard times now

Much has been made of the similarities between today’s economic downturn and The Great Depression. Pundits have, for example, labeled the current era “The Great Recession.” And the facts seem to bear that out. Fifty-five percent of Americans in the workforce have lost their jobs, suffered a pay cut or seen their hours reduced since 2007. By comparison, unemployment alone reached 25 percent in the 1930s. There is, no doubt, a relationship between the two. TIME magazine illustrated that relationship when, just after the 2008 election, the publication put Barack Obama on its cover in a classic Franklin Delano Roosevelt pose, right down to the cigarette holder. The title crystallized the message: “The New New Deal: What Barack Obama can learn from FDR, and what Democrats need to do.”

There are other similarities, too. The hard-luck stories from then and now are more or less the same. And the pictures tell the story.

Then: The Great Depression

Roy Swinford, a worker for the Works Progress Administration in Chicago, laid down 45,000 bricks a day. He kept a crew of 20 men busy at top speed to supply him with bricks. (Source: New Deal Network)

Now: The Great Recession

Kevin Light, a project superintendent with the Washington State Department of Transportation, supervised the City of Washougal’s SR-14 Pedestrian Tunnel stimulus project. In an interview with his employer, Light said, “this project enabled us to continue working and bring employees back to work.” Light’s grandchildren, as he put it, will one day be able to look at the tunnel and say that he built it. (Source: Washington State Department of Transportation)

Then: The Great Depression

Bridge builders working on a Public Works Administration project in Chicago. (Source: New Deal Network)

Now: The Great Recession

Bridge builders working on a stimulus project in Seattle. (Source: Washington State Department of Transportation)

Now: The New New Deal

Of course, Congress and the Obama administration implemented a type of modern New Deal in the form of the 2009 Recovery Act, a $787 billion government stimulus program. While much of the money was in tax breaks, some $150 billion went to infrastructure programs like those in Washington State (see the state department of transportation’s Flickr page for more “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”-like documentation of their state’s stimulus dollars at work). Those projects were, as the president has said, intended to put Americans back to work.

As the midterm elections approach, many will ask: Did the stimulus work? Considering that the jury is still out even on the New Deal, it’s hard to tell.

Then again, an announcement just weeks ago from President Obama may be telling. Obama said that another $50 billion in stimulus-like government spending on infrastructure projects will likely be needed as this “Great Recession” continues. Just don’t call it “Stimulus Part Two” — the president has been careful to avoid using that rhetoric again.

  • thumb
    The admission arms race
    From ProPublica, an in-depth look at the ways in which colleges can pump up their stats.
  • thumb
    Home-grown terrorism
    The story of the Boston bombers is still unfolding at high speed, but counterterror officials believe the brothers were Islamic extremists.
  • thumb
    Boston reading guide
    Need to play catch up? Here's a full list of resources for more on what's going on in Boston.


  • Jackietrotchie

    If PBS is running stories to support the Republican’s, I won’t be watching it any more. PBS needs to remain non-political.

  • Ptassara1953

    Notice in the Great Depression, it was largely manual labor compared to our Great Recession where it’s largely labor done with high tech equipment.

  • guest


  • guest

    in other words: if they dont tell her what she WANTS to hear, she’s not watching

  • Prattle On, Boyo

    The so called “stimulus” did very little to ZERO for the great majority of Americans who are unemployed, starving and homeless. If oBOMBa and the coin-operated congre$$ **really** wanted to help put this country back to work, they’d start by making the outsourcing and off-shoring of jobs exceptionally financially painful for corporations. As it currently stands, those that do so are rewarded in the form of tax breaks. Piss on oBOMa & his stimulus – there is no difference between him and The Deciderer. They both suck up to billionaires and their corporate masters.

  • Mary

    Wait! I thought the network news was just telling us that the Recession has been over for a year??

  • Veghead56

    What I’m hearing is tax breaks don’t really work but infrastructure projects do.

  • Joe the Troll

    The tax loophole that rewarded them was ended about a month ago by the financial regulation bill.

  • Mimette0213

    what is this thread does it state or show any political agenda? I dont see PBS picking sides at all and I watch it every day.

  • Mimette0213

    I meant where in this thread… kitty laying on keyboard

  • Knshanks

    I think that one thing that is very different is that much of the WPA and CCC work was manual and that people were willing to leave their homes to go to the “camps” to do the work. Many learned new skills while there that they could then use when the Depression was over. I am not sure that today’s unemployed would be willing to live as those people did even if it meant that they would learn and have new skills that would ensure employment afterwards. Let’s face it–we just aren’t “hurting” enough! When the President suggested adding to Americorp, folks screamed that it was socialistic..referencing “Brown Shirts”..I guess they forgot that many of their Grandfathers and some fathers worked in the CCC or WPA!

  • Adrian Slew

    Hmmm..You forgot to post a photo of people standing in soup lines compared to people standing in lines for the iPhone…yeah, it’s eerie how similar today’s recession is to the Great Depression! LOL

  • Jeff

    Actually during the “Great Depression” most “well off” folks felt no effect at all.

  • Kennyx6

    What the country needs is a WPA. Millions of unemployed could be given jobs at $ 5 to $ 8 an hour, with free room and board in work camps. The various works could be all over the USA or where ever it was needed.

  • Prattle On, Boyo

    Hey Joe, you know that loophole you said was closed? Guess what. You’re wrong.