Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Migrant Mother and Economic Recession

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) said Monday, December 1, 2008, that the U.S. has been in a recession since December 2007, making official what most Americans have already believed about the state of the economy. Direct comparisons to the Great Depression have become more common in recent weeks, given the collapse of the stock market and consumer spending. But those comparisons overlook many key facts. During the Great Depression, the unemployment rate surged to 25% and GDP contracted by 28% between 1930 and 1932, an unthinkable prospect in today’s environment, thanks to a long list of underlying differences between then and now.

For example, the banking system collapsed in its entirety during the Great Depression and the absence of bank deposit insurance at the time caused catastrophic erosion to household wealth and consumption. Today, FDIC insurance (and its recently elevated limit to $250,000) provides a significant cushion; the response of economic policymakers is immeasurably faster and more aggressive now; and the coordinated actions among the major economies today to address the root causes of the current episode are both impressive and totally unprecedented.

While the economy is still in the better shape, than it was during the Great Depression, the nation is definitely going through tough economic times. It is safe to say that the current economic crisis is the worst since the Great Depression.

The renewed interest to the Great Depression caused the search item migrant mother to get to the third highest position at the top Google Searches. The immense interest boost made the CNN Article about the icon of the Great Depression: a migrant mother with her children burying their faces in her shoulder.

Migrant Mother is the most famous of Dorothea Lange’s photographs, as well as one of the most well-known from the time of the Great Depression between the 1920s and 1940s. At the time the photograph was taken, Lange was working for the California Rural Rehabilitation Administration (RA) and the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Her job was to travel and take pictures to report on the living conditions of migrant workers and their families. In Nipomo, California, in 1936, Dorothea saw the woman in her famous photograph and approached her. The woman, aged thirty-two, was seated with her seven children at a destitute pea pickers camp. The following is an account of the experience in Lange’s own words:

"I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, and that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it." (Lange 1960).

After returning home, Lange alerted the editor of a San Francisco newspaper to the plight of the workers at the camp, presenting him with two of her photos. The editor informed federal authorities and published an article that included Lange’s images. As a result, the government rushed a shipment of 20,000 lbs. of food to the camp. The photos’ wider impact included influencing John Steinbeck in the writing of his novel The Grapes of Wrath.

See the rest of the pictures that were taken at the same time (Source)

While there are hard economic times, especially for those who lost their jobs or other income sources in the recession, I would like to cheer you up by presenting a Photoshop parody on the great Migrant Mother picture.