The New Deal and Minorities

America faced the worst economic downturn in the history of the modern world, christened the Black Tuesday in 1929. The decade-long crisis spread financial desperation across America, crippling businesses and causing massive unemployment. During the Depression, racism was prevalent, with workers from minority groups losing their jobs first. Moreover, the state denied them the opportunity to work in the public service. What is more, they faced violence and threats from supremacist whites, especially in the south as whites scampered to secure all the job slots, even those mean for minorities. Unions, keen on preserving the segregationist laws of the Jim Crow era, also denied the marginalized groups membership. Roosevelt established a comprehensive range of national economic and social policies dubbed the New Deal, to ameliorate the besieged state. Due to all these aspects, marginalized groups suffered significantly during the Depression. As tough as the economic crunch of the Great Depression was for whites, it was even harder for ethnic minorities, including women, Hispanics, Native Americans, and blacks who did not benefit much from the New deal.

Women suffered from discrimination from agencies brokering the New Deal. President Roosevelt, under the New Deal, acted quickly to protect the economy through state intervention programs including the Banking Act of 1933 and the Economy Act of 1933 (Ingui & Jane, 2003, p. 115). The New Deal strengthened prevailing gendered notions about the family and paid employment. The Economy Act of 1933 created the Married Persons Clause needing federal agencies that were laying off workers first to sack employees whose spouses had worked in the public service.  Although the Act did not reference any particular gender, it implied that married women would go first. This traditional view caused many women to step down voluntarily to safeguard their husbands’ careers (Storrs, 2013).   The wage variance between males and females grew significantly. On average, a woman received half of a man’s salary. The proportion of women in the professional sector plummeted causing many of them to join labor movements like the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union. The Depression left a lasting impression on the minorities who lived through it, including the state’s women.

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Regarding Native Americans, The Great Depression upturned their poverty levels to insufferable proportions.  Consequently, federal officials led by Harold Ickes supported the idea of raising the aid offered to Native groups in 1933. Ickes hired John Collier to head the Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian affairs and who in turn introduced the Indian New Deal in 1934. The deal changed the course America’s Indian policy by increasing economic resources aimed at developing native tribes instead of forcefully assimilating them to the American culture. The new deal helped Indians to safeguard their culture, an act that reversed the gains of the 1887 Dawes Act.

For their part, Hispanic immigrants faced blame for contributing to the depression.  White Americans accused them of usurping their jobs, an aspect that heightened tension and bred hostility.  State agencies and civilians harassed members of the community, forcing some to return to their country. Those who remained faced unemployment and low wages, a factor that caused them to establish organizations like the Confederation of Mexican Farmers and Workers Unions, aimed at agitating for better terms of service (Bacon, 2013). The New Deal program affected Hispanics both positively and negatively. On the one hand, the state enlisted many young Hispanics to the Civilian Conservation Corps and supported farming activities in Hispanic settlements. On the contrary, many of them could not access aid assistance because they did not have known addresses. This factor worsened living conditions for a section of the community. Despite being on the receiving end of being part of the economic problem, the Spaniards gained from the New Deal.

Blacks suffered the worst wrath of the Depression after enduring harder circumstances in the just ended slavery period where they faced segregation and inhumane conditions.  Xenophobia remained entangled into all aspects the American society in the 1920s through to the 1930s, besides being openly conveyed in public. With the beginning of the Depression, blacks suffered mass job cuts. Whites eyed most of the jobs the blacks held before like housekeeping (Smith, 2014, p. 108). State funded agencies offered miserly relief assistance to blacks, and as the economy dipped further, whites began attacking blacks sporadically and destroying their business. As a rejoinder, blacks formed Organizations such as the Colored Merchants Association aimed at protecting their business premises from vandalism. The new deal did not hold much promise for blacks, mainly because it did not establish measures for ending racial intolerance. Roosevelt paid more attention to economic legislation than racial matters.  Consequently, racial discrimination became pervasive within State agencies carrying out the New Deal programs.  Although the New Deal established projects like the National Recovery Administration to define wage rates, it did not benefit many blacks who worked in low cadre jobs.  However, in a dramatic twist of events, Eleanor Roosevelt embarked on a drawn-out social activism program aimed at enhancing the blacks and other minorities by improving their economic condition and appealing to the whites to change their view of the groups. The president responded to the activism by directing the public service, through Harold Ickes, to enlist more blacks in the sector (Kaye, 2015, p. 44).  The seeming sympathy towards blacks won Roosevelt their favor as they voted for him overwhelmingly in the 1936 elections. From then on Roosevelt took measures to stem racism. Despite suffering the most during the Depression, Blacks gained significantly from the New Deal, partly because of Eleanor Roosevelt’s intervention.

In summary, the Depression changed the lives of nearly all Americans because they had to modify their way of life and values to overcome the challenges of the crisis.  The crisis affected gender roles as men lost their capacity to provide for their families due to mass unemployment while marginalized groups endured discrimination. The state did not offer them equal opportunities to take part in the restoration programs. Franklin Roosevelt, the presidential contender at the time, ran and won on the platform of economic recovery under a program called the New Deal, intended to restore the economy and rebuild the nation.  However, minorities, including women, Hispanics, Native Americans, and blacks suffered the worst brunt of the crisis and did not benefit much from the New deal. Nevertheless, the deal set precedence as the first step towards a more inclusive nation.


American Experience: TV’s most-watched history series. (n.d.). Retrieved July 17, 2016, from

Ayers, E. L., Gould, L. L., Oshinsky, D. M., & Soderlund, J. R. (2010). American passages. a history in the United States. Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Bacon, D. (2013). The right to stay home: How US policy drives Mexican migration. Boston: Bacon press.

Jane, C. I. (2003). American history, 1877 to the present. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s.

Smith, J. S. (2014). A Concise History of the New Deal. London, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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