The Depression and Quota System Effects on Ethnic Communities - An Essay Example

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University of California, Santa Barbara
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The Great Depression of the 1930s affected virtually every American community group. The country, at the brink of economic collapse, saw many communities facing unemployment and a general lack of access to public amenities and the basic ways to sustain their lives. However, according to historians, racial minorities faced the blunt end of the Depression. Kennedy, in particular, recounts events surrounding the Great Depression and the quota system in effect at the time. The animosity the Nazi regime had directed at the Jews before the Second World War outraged many Americans, to the point where the nation considered extending the visas of German nationals already resident in the United States. Additionally, the then President Franklin Roosevelt contemplated relaxing the immigration restrictions to let in more Jewish refugees into the country, owing to the escalating situation in German. Roosevelt responded to the matter by saying We have the quota system. The President was referring to the immigration laws enacted in the country during the period. The United States had set a limit of immigrants allowed to enter the country, and during the Great Depression, the quota system affected the ethnic communities, and the paper discusses these effects and the effects of the Depression on the ethnic communities of America.

Due to the tensions caused by unemployment and general distraught caused by the Great Depression, a lot of racial tension ensued. Racial violence was common, especially in the South of the United States where lynching of black Americans began to resurface. The lynchings, which had declined in 1932 to eight, shot up to 23 lynchings in 1933 alone (Thompson 38). The author notes that while the life expectancy of whites rose from 63 t 67 years, and that of the black population struck the bottom of the scale at 47 to 52 years. The reason why the tension and the consequent brutality that was meted out against the black population was the rising levels of unemployment. The white population saw the black community, and other ethnic communities such as Mexicans, as their primary competitors for the only accessible form of employment of the time menial labor. The unemployment crisis affected the ethnic communities to the extent that the white community in Atlanta organized a Black Shirts movement with the slogan no jobs for niggers until every white man has a job (Young and Young 2007). The result was that by the end of 1932, more than half of black workers in the southern states were unemployed. Additionally, only a fifth of the black community received aid from the southern government or the private charities. The black community, and other similar ethnic groups was a starving population with no hope of redress from the government during the great depression.

Since there was no welfare system in place to support the ethnic communities in the Great Depression, and unemployment rates were well above 20%, the U.S had to revise its policy on immigration. Before the Great Depression, however, Bodvarsson and Van den Berg (364) note that immigrants freely came into the U.S. The authors note that millions of Mexicans immigrated to the United States freely. However, following the depression, strict immigration quotas were imposed on immigration. The economic pressure caused by the Depression led to the deportation of millions of immigrants with expired visas, especially immigrants from Mexico (Balderrama and Rodriguez 10). The strict quota system meant that ethnic communities increasingly had fractured families as relatives, parents, and children were deported back to their homelands.



Balderrama, Francisco E., and Raymond Rodriguez. Decade of betrayal: Mexican repatriation in the 1930s. UNM Press, 2006.

Kennedy, David M. The American People in the Great Depression: Freedom from Fear, Part One. Oxford University Press, 2003.

Lewis, Ethan G. "The Economics of Immigration: Theory and Policy." (2010): 1028-1030.

Terkel, Studs. Hard times: An oral history of the Great Depression. The New Press, 2011.

Thompson, Julius E. Lynchings in Mississippi: A history, 1865-1965. McFarland, 2006.

Young, William H., and Nancy K. Young. The Great Depression in America: a cultural encyclopedia. Vol. 2. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007.


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