These farmers, called Okies and Arkies, packed up and headed west following Route 66, escape route to the "land of milk and honey." However, once these migrant workers reached the West, they soon found that they were not wanted. Tactics such as blocking main roads and highways were used to keep migrants away. Those who did find work only received minimum pay
False Sense of Prosperity For many groups of Americans, the prosperity of the 1920s was a cruel illusion. Even during the most prosperous years of the Roaring Twenties, most families lived below what contemporaries defined as the poverty line. In 1929, economists considered $2,500 the income necessary to support a family. In that year, more than 60 percent of the nation's families earned less than $2,000 a year--the income necessary for basic necessities--and over 40 percent earned less than $1,500 annually. Although labor productivity soared during the 1920s because of electrification and more efficient management, wages stagnated or fell in mining, transportation, and manufacturing. Hourly wages in coal mines sagged from 84.5 cents in 1923 to just 62.5 cents in 1929. Prosperity bypassed specific groups of Americans entirely. A 1928 report on the condition of Native Americans found that half owned less than $500 and that 71 percent lived on less than $200 a year. Mexican Americans, too, had failed to share in the prosperity. During the 1920s, each year 25,000 Mexicans migrated to the United States. Most lived in conditions of extreme poverty. In Los Angeles the infant mortality rate was five times higher than the rate for Anglos, and most homes lacked toilets. A survey found that a substantial number of Mexican Americans had virtually no meat or fresh vegetables in their diet; 40 percent said that they could not afford to give their children milk. The farm sector had been mired in depression since 1921. Farm prices had been depressed ever since the end of World War I, when European agriculture revived. Strapped with long-term debts, high taxes, and a sharp drop in crop prices, farmers lost ground throughout the 1920s. In 1910, a farmer's income was 40 percent of a city worker's. By 1930, it had sagged to just 30 percent. A poor distribution of income compounded the country's economic problems. During the 1920s, there was a pronounced shift in wealth and income toward the very rich. Between 1919 and 1929, the share of income received by the wealthiest one percent of Americans rose from 12 percent to 19 percent, while the share received by the richest five percent jumped from 24 percent to 34 percent. Over the same period, the poorest 93 percent of the non- farm population actually saw its disposable income fall. Because the rich tend to spend a high proportion of their income on luxuries, such as large cars, entertainment, and tourism, and save a disproportionately large share of their income, there was insufficient demand to keep employment and investment at a high level.
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- Fall '19