- Great Depression witnesses remember
Rod Lamkey Jr. and David M. Dickson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Monday, December 29, 2008
As Americans try to cope with lost jobs and lost homes and deal with the continuing crises in the financial and credit markets that some compare with conditions during the Great Depression, economists say that, so far, the United States has not seen the level of deprivation that marked the 1930s.
Nevertheless, the unfolding collapse in housing values has obliterated an estimated $4 trillion in home equity, which will cause millions of households to lose their homes through foreclosure. The bear market - the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down about 40 percent from its peak - has eliminated additional trillions of dollars in stockholders' wealth. Also, last month the unemployment rate reached its highest level (6.7 percent) in more than 15 years.
But by comparison, at its nadir the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost nearly 90 percent of its value in the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate peaked at 24.9 percent and economic output declined by 13 percent in a single year. (Even if the gross domestic product plunges by an annual rate of 5 percent during the fourth quarter, GDP will still be 1.2 percent higher in 2008 than it was last year.)
Robert E. Miller, 87; Queen Esther Woodard, 96; and Lillie Deloatch, 88, lived through those hard times, and they shared their Depression-era experiences in conversations at the Stoddard Baptist Nursing Home in Northwest.
Robert E. Miller, 87.
Born in 1921 at Columbia Hospital in the District , Mr. Miller spent the Depression years as a child in the nation's capital.
Robert E. Miller, 87, grew up in the District during the Great Depression with two sisters and three brothers. "We always had some kind of food. My father would eat opossum," he said. (Rod Lamkey Jr./The Washington Times)
Growing up in a home at 23rd and P streets on top of Rock Creek Park, Mr. Miller had two sisters, three brothers and a big German police dog - "and that was all that boys want, a brother and police dog."
His father worked as a night watchman from 7 at night until 7 the next morning, all for $75 a month. "We lived off that, and I don't know how you could say it, but we were a very happy family, eatin' with what we could get, your bread. ... A loaf of bread, white bread, cost five cents," he said.
"You didn't have any electric lights in your house. You had what they call coal oil lamps," he recalled. "We had no electricity at all ... no running water ... had to go down to the corner, pump's on the corner, just mash on the top and the water would come out. You take your bucket and go down there and pump, get your water, come back to the house, and that's the way you got your water."
In the winter time, Mr. Miller and his siblings had only one over coat to share among them. On the way to school, whoever got dressed first got to wear the coat. "The rest didn't have any, so we just walk with shirt sleeves, sweater, no sweater, and we'd walk [24 blocks] to Dunbar [High School]. We would walk that, rain, snow, whatever. . . . Get to school the best way you could, and still we managed to be happy, jovial, playin' all the time, never any fightin' anything," as he tells it.
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