I am really looking forward to the upcoming Ken Burns PBS film on the Dust Bowl. I grew up hearing the stories of the “Dirty Thirties” from my parents who lived through what is referred to in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name as the “worst hard times.”
While such hardships are a lifetime away, I believe we can learn valuable lessons from the Dust Bowl. The calamitous dust storms did wreak havoc, but the great migration depicted in “The Grapes of Wrath” was just as much about the economy as it was the environment.
In truth, less than seven percent of the migrants who moved to California did so because of the wind-ravaged Dust Bowl; the majority were refugees of a changing economy. A recession in farm country had farmers borrowing on the easy credit of the 1920s. Then in the 1930s, landowners began phasing out tenant farming and the sharecroppers it supported in favor of seasonal wage labor.
With unemployment during the Great Depression hovering around 30 percent, there were just no jobs to be had. Such an unforgiving economy had little room for the downtrodden, let alone an environmental disaster. We slipped into one of the bleakest moments in our nation’s history.
Today, we face our own set of challenges — probably nothing as severe as we saw in the 1930s, but still a transitioning economy. Jobs that once supported entire families on a single income have been blown away by the winds of change. A global economy and the rapid rise in technology have made today’s workplace quite different than the one I entered not that long ago.
As we continue to emerge from what was the worst recession since the 1930s, I can only hope we rise to the occasion as Americans, dust ourselves off, and face the challenges of today with the same character our forefathers showed.
In this week’s video blog, I want to share my family’s personal story of the Dust Bowl. My parents still inspire me. I hope they will inspire you too.