One of the important factors to consider on a Population level here in the FSofA during the Great Depression was what occurred BEFORE it and how the land got settled in the post Civil War years through the Great War and then the Roaring 20s.
First off, the “Sooners” of Oklahoma got their land for free after the Natives had been pushed off the land. These were generally immigrants from Europe, poor Swedes and Germans who homesteaded that land and began to farm it. Under the technology of the day, that land wasn’t really suitable for farming, it was Grazing land. They did not have the massive pumps to bring up the water from the Ogalala Aquifer in place yet. It really only took a couple of generations to deplete the land and set it up for the Dust Bowl. So all these 2nd generation poor immigrants on the poorest land would have been the first ones displaced and formed one itinerant army of Poor People once the Dust Bowl and the Depression set in.
The other army of poor folks were the Refugees from Europe who came over directly after the Great War. My Paternal Grandparents were in that Wave. Grandpa was Russian, Grandma was a Romanian Gypsie. This group of people formed the labor force building the Great Cities of the FSofA during the Roaring 20s. My Grandfather the Acrobat found good paying work on the High Steel in NYC. A smart guy and heavy drinker, he used his money to set up a Speakeasy in Brooklyn during the Prohibition years. My Grandma ran the Still producing fine Vodka and Sour Mash Whisky in the basement of the Brooklyn Brownstone they lived in, which he eventually bought also, for all CASH. I vaguely remember him telling me he bought it for $500. Said Brownstone was worth $100K even when I was in college. Probably worth $1M in the Boom years. He also bought land in Westchester county, then all farms, again for all CASH. When RE building collapsed in the Great Depression and he no longer had work walking the High Steel, his Speakeasy carried the family through, and frankly he did pretty well. He was a funny guy and the local Brooklyn Politicians all frequented his bar. There were guys Running Numbers out of the Bar, he took a Piece of the Action. Grandad was a smart Bizman, though not a very legally correct one. My father’s older brother ran a large Junkyard during the Depression years, he also did OK. My dad was able to go to College at Pace University majoring in Accounting just as WWII ended because they all made it through. Pretty well off actually. This of course is why I am here today writing from the Last Great Frontier. LOL.
My mom’s side did not do so well. They were Polish Jews who evacuated Europe just as the Nazis were coming to power. Her father, my maternal grandfather I never knew died shortly after coming to the FSofA of Tuberculosis. My maternal Grandmother kept the family going running a Rag Shop on the Lower East Side of NY, on Delancey Street. They did go through periods of great Hunger, but made it through on the food at the Soup Kitchens and did not starve to DEATH, although my mom was one Skinny 17 year old when my dad met her at a Dance in one of the Settlement Houses. Her brother wasn’t just skinny, he ended up with neurological problems which likely came from malnutrition.
Sadly of course, many others in the immigrant labor force during the years from 1917-1929 weren’t quite so smart and fortunate in how they used their decent wages for those 12 years as my Grandad, they didn’t have a Speakeasy to fall back on when the construction jobs disappeared and the Longshoremen jobs disappeared as Trade came to a grinding halt. The later immigrants from my mom’s side pretty much missed the boom entirely and were impoverished from the time they arrived here.
Together, once the Depression hit in full force in the 1930s, this was the other massive population of poor people besides the rural poor of places like Oklahoma. Basically all at the same time, once the jobs disappeared and poor land was no longer producing, ALL of these folks took to the road in one way or another looking for a Better Place and an Opportunity. For a Decade of time, until we entered WWII in 1941, no such opportunities existed for them anywhere. You see that in the Signs from the period, “Jobless Men KEEP GOING! We Cannot support our OWN!”
Whatever Die Off did occur here in the years of the Great Depression came from this group of itinerants, and this is why they for the most part are not remembered. They were mostly newby immigrants who had no other family ties here, nobody to remember them, how they lived and how they died. People who had family ties here, who were parts of small communities that survived and looked after there own mostly DID make it through, although of course not without much hardship. The ones who did actually die of starvation or starvation related disease, however many of them there were, were the most recent immigrants in the poorest of the poor situations.
As we look into the future here, History is likely to Rhyme in this regard. The folks here in the most precarious situation are the most recent Immigrants, particularly the Illegal immigrants. They are the ones who are going to first be cut off from the SNAP cards and told to “Move ON, because we cannot take care of our own”. How many of them are there? Estimates are around 20M I think, and for the most part this bunch of people are GONERS. Just like the friends and relatives they left behind in their home countries to escape the desperate poverty there.
Quite a bit of LUCK involved in when you were born, when you emigrated and where you emigrated to, both prior to the Great Depression and now as well. My Paternal Grandfather emigrated at the RIGHT time, and hitched a ride on the Prosperity that was the Roaring 20s. Vietnamese who emigrated here in the 1970s similarly are likely to make it through, having established themselves and having family networks to fall back on. My mother’s family is more like the recent immigrants from places like Pakistan and Guatemala. They will not fare so well.
The biggest difference I see between then and now is the difference in potential for rebuilding once the initial Holocaust takes its toll worldwide. Similarly, I do expect a World War and Conscription to commence, but in this case it is very hard to see how the factories hiring “Rosie the Riveter” will be able to both bring jobs to the women not conscripted and the folks too old to fight but still young enough to work on a production line or as a Manager. This because at the time of WWII, the OIL was available locally to run those factories, not so today. Today, that Oil must be IMPORTED from the War Zone ITSELF. I cannot see how enough Oil can be moved from that War Zone to the FSofA to BOTH ramp up the war production machinery AND continue to run the civilian systems we have here that have come to depend on it over the intervening years.
Austerity in the form of Gas and Food rationing in the WWII years was pretty tough, but this time round it has to be much tougher than that to keep fuel moving to the War Machine. I don’t think the integrity of the society can hold together under that much austerity, and moreover I don’t see it possible that enough Oil can be moved from the war zone to even keep the war machinery itself going very long. This adds up to systemic collapse of the Oil conduit entirely.
Once that happens, pretty much all the International War for Oil will stop and at this point all the Wars will be loal ones for local resources amongst the people currently living on particular patches of land around the globe. No rebuild of industrialized society, just further destruction until enough are dead so there are enough local resources for the survivors. It would be at this point you could attempt a rebuild on 1850s era technology, utilizing mostly Coal and scavenging parts from the Age of Oil. Call that a 50 year timeline, then another 100 years perhaps rebuilding with that technology until it also gives up the ghost.1750s after that fo another couple of centuries, back to the Stone Age after that.
There is ZERO on the horizon I can see that will stop this inexorable progression. Nuclear Plants will not do it, neither will renewable Hydro or Solar. However, as long as some people survive, the great experiment that is Human Sentience will continue onward, and then perhaps after all of this we can build a Better Tomorrow. Only time will tell.