Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dust Bowl

This week we will be looking at a series of pictures from the American Dust Bowl. I found some pictures I had not seen before, and thought I would feature them this week. The picture above was taken in 1935 and shows a destitute family at a relocation camp in California.

It is amazing to me how we appear to have forgotten the lessons of the Great Depression. In the business class I teach, I am trying to teach to students about investing. On the first day of class, I set each student up with a stock brokerage account. The account works exactly like an etrade or ameritrade account, only they are investing "play" money. Each student is given $100,000 in the account. At the start of each class period, while I am doing roll, the students research companies, and then buy or sell stocks. There is a master page, where they can compare how they are doing vs. the other students. As the year goes on, I get into all the details of investing; picking companies, reading balance sheets, understanding earnings reports and so forth. This week, we were talking about how different things would affect the market. As a whole, the class felt the economy would probably be getting worse before it gets better. We then discussed companies that might do well in a sinking economy. Walmart came up as a company that might do relatively well if things were tough in the economy. I then made the point that if things were tough, it would be more likely that someone would buy a $15 pair of jeans at walmart, than a $150 pair of jeans at Aeropostale. At this point one student said, "I would never wear Walmart jeans". I tried to explain that conditions could dictate that . . . for example, if a family member lost a job. The response was that under no circumstances would they wear Walmart jeans. The other students jumped in, agreeing that there would never be any circumstances under which they would be caught dead in Walmart jeans. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to make them see that not only could conditions arise in which you would wear Walmart jeans, but they might be such that you felt lucky to have pants at all. While I really have a good group of students this year, even with them, I was unable to make them see that designer jeans were not an inalienable right.


  1. It is so unbelievable that most kids now days get anything they want.
    They have no idea what money really is. I pity them when they get out into the real world.
    The amount of money that parents spend on their electronic toys is unreal. They all have cell phones. Even if the parents can't afford to pay the rent, they get their game box, Wii, and all the game cartridges they want.
    My parents weren't poor but if I wanted something I had to not only do my chores (without Pay), but find ways to make money to buy it.
    I guess that goes to show old I am.

  2. PJM and Anon:

    Wow, you guys really hit the nail right on the head!! And that’s exactly why we’re in the current economic mess.

    Paul, I’m not at all surprised that your students think they are “entitled that they “need” to wear designer jeans; and Anon, you really zeroed in on one of the biggest problems with our society today. People give their kids everything today and think they’re “entitled” to things they can’t afford - like big, overpriced houses. I think a lot of this has to do with the media and the constant materialism that we are bombarded with as well as a lack of proper (or involved) parenting.

    There is a tremendous difference between the thinking of most young people today and my father’s depression-era attitudes. My dad is 94 years old and was the child of poor Italian immigrants in Providence, RI. There were many times when they didn’t have enough food.

    During the Depression, everyone who was working in his family lost their jobs. My dad was the next to the youngest and an A student. His mother wanted him to be the first member of his family finish high school. But he had to drop out at the age of 15, because he was the only person who could get a job. He tried to go to night school, but it was too much.

    For years he supported seven people, working 65 hours in a hardware store for something like $20 a week (I know it sounds like a cliché, but it’s true). He worked there for five years and was considered their best employee, but they fired him when he asked for a $1 raise. Then he had to find another job.

    During that time period (before the War), both his parents passed away within a short time of each other. He and his brothers and sisters didn’t even have enough money for a gravestone.

    The five siblings continued to live together and support each other. They all pitched in to keep the youngest (my dad’s sister) in school. She was the only one to make it through high school and college. My father used to hand his sealed paycheck to his mother each week, without keeping a dime for himself. After she died, he turned his paycheck over to his oldest sister.

    After the war, he went back to school for a while, but never graduated. Nonetheless, he wound up being a successful executive for one of the largest jewelry manufacturers in the country (which was located here in Rhode Island). And he did it all on his own.

    My sister and I grew up in beautiful home in a nice neighborhood with a stay-at-home mom. My parents sent both of us to college - we never had any student loans. And now, at the age of 94, my dad offered to pay for most of my daughter’s college tuition as well since she is his only grandchild. She comes home from college every weekend to see him - she says he’s her best friend.

    My father is an absolutely amazing and humble man. The most important values he instilled in us were: (1) Always live BENEATH your means; (2) Don’t pay attention to what other people have and try to keep up with them; and (3) Always remember that there are many people who are much less fortunate than you are, so be grateful for what you DO have and share it with those who need help.

    I have tried to practice and bring my daughter up by these principles as well.

  3. Ironically... The guy in your picture today looks like he could be in an ad today for Aeropostale jeans. I mean. He's even striking the pose and wearing an outfit you could see today. How odd!

  4. Funny, my son is going to mow some xtra lawns this summer to buy the "new style" uniforms he needs to attend the 100th anniversary Scout jamboree in July.

    You're just looking in the wrong place.


  5. Hi all!
    I agree that most kids today feel "entitled" to have all the latest gizmos/fashions, and the parents freely give them whatever they want. As a single parent of four children, I have tried hard to instill in them the reality of working for what you want because it can't always be given to you. Most of my kids understand that, but one of them really doesn't get it. My daughter is amazed at her friends that have gone to college and feel that they don't have enough spending money with a bank balance of $5000, while she works as much as she can for all her book, expenses, and rent money!

    It would be interesting to see what would happen if these "entitled" children really need to "Walmart" jeans because they can't afford the designer ones.

    PJM, I really enjoy your blog! Thanks for all the great pictures!

  6. My feelings are "If Wal*Mart don't have it, I don't need it".
    As a kid, the only time we got toys was at Christmas. We got one pair of shoes at the beginning of the school year. My mother made our school clothes. She ordered our jeans, coats & caps from Sears.This was in the 40's and 50's.

  7. Understandable about the kids' response. Young peoples' brains are not yet 'hard-wired'. The concept of economic hardships dictating where they might shop is lost on them.

    Ask these students the same question once they turn twenty-five and their answers will definitely be different.

    Many kids do have a sense of entitlement that we never had while growing up.

    I believe that young people who grow up with less are more highly motivated to make something of themselves as adults.

  8. I wish more of the parents of those kids (my generation) would have had teachers like you, PJM. Too many of our teachers were stooges who subscribed to the Marxist dialectical methods and ideology of men like Dewey and Ingersoll.

    The current condition of America is a product of bad logos.

  9. PJM the date of that photo is the same year I was born, in B.C. Canada.

    At the time, my father made a whopping 25 cents an hour in a sawmill and darned glad to even have a job.

    And, as others have noted, the attitude of your students is no surprise whatsoever.

  10. Look around, people....there are plenty of "grownups" out there living paycheck to paycheck, but you sure as hell don't see them going without their Starbucks, cell phones, and laptops.

    How can you expect this generation to have any concept of prioritizing and delayed gratification when no one else seems to???

  11. Well one difference is that adults are spending their own money, not someone elses. Another difference is that a laptop or cell phone is a business/job necessity.

    With that said, yes, many adults are setting a bad example.

    Nonethesless, these young people are going to be in for a rude awakening, and perhaps someday soon.

  12. After my first husband died, I remarried and we were much better off financially than we had ever been before. Suddenly, our middle daughter could not fit her backside into anything by Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. I finally decided to give each of the girls $30 a month clothes allowence. (This was in 1976 and $30 went a lot further than it does today!) I chose $30 because GV jeans were $35so she would have to save for them if she wanted them. Well, suddenly she could not only wear cheap jeans, she could actually find them on sale!

    All it takes is a good strong dose of reality.

  13. I wish I could take your class. I stick to mutual funds, though we have used some "gambling" money to pick up some cheap bank & auto stocks this past year.

    Although I feared for my own job, I was kind of glad when the American economy took a tumble. I thought maybe our materialistic, entitled culture would be shocked back into reality. Not so far, huh?

    If you pay attention to commercials, you'll be amazed at how often you'll hear the phrase "you deserve." What? What have I really done to deserve useless, pointless luxury, when others in my own neighborhood are struggling to eat? No thanks, I'll stick to the simple life, and my positive net worth!

  14. I agree with Flartus. Everyone should be forced to live meager, dull lives - for the good of all. Maybe only approved clothing should be sold and materialism discouraged through labor.

  15. Wow. I can't believe that these kids have been allowed to become so spoiled. Growing up, we rarely shopped at mall stores, and usually bought things on clearance. I, my children & my husband are almost entirely clothed in Walmart clothes. The only place I spend a lot of money is for our food. I seem to have an idea that as long as we have food, we are safe and doing well.

  16. Bless you teacher:
    There is no gift greater than the lesson learned.
    You have a hill to climb!

  17. Did they insist that they have designer jeans or just that they would not shop at Walmart? Your post wasn't clear on that. Personally I think I'd shop at Goodwill before Walmart. I really just don't care for the store. So how are the kids doing with the investing? I wish someone had taught me how to do that. The stock market can be very intimidating and scary when you font understand it.

  18. We've been working on Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover since Jan. 2008, and we have switched from not discussing our finances with our kids to letting them in on some of them (now that we're not on the verge of going under any more!). They know how much we spend on clothing and that we've got a budget. They know that if we buy clothes somewhere other than Wal Mart or Target, it's a big deal. And they have to earn money to buy gifts for others, as well. They're learning about how the real world works so that they can prepare for it.

    And they're only 11 and 8. The 11 year old still loves to spend nearly as fast as she gets, but she'll get the picture soon enough.

    Love these old pics, BTW. Just started subscribing to your blog quite recently.

  19. Norkio:

    In reference to your comment re Wal-Mart, I hate that store with a passion and will never step foot inside one.

    It’s not because I’m a snob, but because the founder of Wal-Mart stole the idea for his stores from a Rhode Island discount chain called Ann & Hope. They were one of the first multi-department discount store in the country. Sam Walton visited Ann & Hope in the early 1960s and used them as the model for his stores - as did the founder of Kmart.

    I have many happy memories of shopping in Ann & Hope with my mother and sister, where we’d buy everything from school clothes and shoes to pots and pans and toys. And, of course, there was always the food concessions and the dime rides at the front of the store, including the famous “pony” that shook up your insides (after you ate all that greasy pizza), which made for a fun ride home in the car (“Mommy, I’m sick!!”).

    Since Wal Mart and Kmart and other similar stores eventually moved in to this area and put Ann & Hope out of business, I’ll never set foot inside one.

    Here’s some history which I copied from Wikipedia:

    Early Years

    Ann & Hope was founded by Martin Chase who was born in 1906 in Kiev, Ukraine, and moved with his family to Providence, Rhode Island at age six. He was the only one of six sons not to work in his father's automobile repair business. Instead, when he was 20, he got a job working at a store called Fintex. After Fintex closed its doors in 1929, Chase worked at Howard's Clothes until 1933. Then he started Chase Clothing, where he undersold other area clothing stores by reducing overhead: for example he did not offer alterations and used inexpensive store fixtures.

    As World War II approached, the clothing market fell into decline, and Chase began to look for another line of work. In 1946, he purchased the Ann & Hope Mill complex in the village of Lonsdale in Cumberland, Rhode Island. He split the large, empty mill into several small pieces and rented them individually.

    Some time before December 1953, one of the tenants left the Mill, leaving a large amount of ribbon behind. Rather than dispose of it, the Chases opened the area to the other employees of the Mill and sold the ribbon. Chase then had the idea to reopen a clothing store in the Mill, initially on the third floor. By the following spring, the operation had become large enough that it was relocated to the ground floor. Over time more products were added, and by 1969, Ann & Hope was a $40 million per year operation.

    Significance to Retail History

    Ann & Hope was one of the first self-service department stores, in which customers could look at items without sales personnel, and also was one of the first to use shopping carts in a department store. The original mill location also featured a large parking area, which was not common at the time, as well as a basement level with even more merchandise. A special carriage lift was operated by staff to get store patrons' items from one floor to the other. Other now-familiar features such as having a central checkout area and a liberal store return policy were also pioneered by Ann & Hope.

    Ann & Hope also had several features now common to big-box retail facilities. For example, some Ann & Hope stores had full scale cafeterias. When originally constructed, Ann & Hope stores also had an area that was rented to a sub-tenant, with both in-store and outside entrances, a variation of which is a relatively recent introduction in larger Wal-Mart stores. Many Ann & Hope locations had limited success renting to tenants, and before the chain's closing in 2001, many had been converted to store-run garden shops.

    Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, visited the Ann & Hope chain in 1961 and got the idea for Wal Mart here. and Harry Cunningham visited Ann & Hope in the process of preparing to launch the first Kmart store.

  20. SmartGirl, that is really interesting about Ann & Hope. I had never heard of it, but maybe because they never made it out here. I like the concept of the old mill being used - or repurposed as they call it these days, lol. We have Kmart and we used to have Gemco and Fedco - similar type stores - which were put out of business by Wal Mart and the like. I never really felt like the quality was up to scratch in Wal Mart and at least here, people who shop there are pretty questionable. I'm not saying everyone who works/shops there is bad, just in my experience it has been less than desirable. Funny thing, I remember when the first Wal Mart opened out here, it was a huge thing to go visit it, like a field trip! Now, I only go there if I absolutely can't get it anywhere else.


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