Americans today are experiencing the gut-wrenching and helpless sensation of losing jobs, seeing food and merchandise prices rise and watching a good portion of their 401K cut in half.
The current economic problems have led Americans to wonder how our country will ever come out of these hard times.
This, however, is not the first major financial crisis that America has faced. In the not-so-distant past, the stock market crashed, jobs were lost and just putting food on the dinner table proved to be a challenge.
In 1929, the economic slump of the Great Depression put the nation in similarly tight times as today.
Mercedes Compton, 88 years old, is a witness of the financial instabilities of both 1929 and present day.
Compton was born in Philadelphia in 1921 and was 8 years old when the Depression hit. While many families experienced the troubles of being laid off of work, Compton’s father luckily had his own plumbing and heating business rooted in Camden, N.J. Compton’s father remained in business and had work, but there was still a drawback to being independently employed during the Depression.
“People wouldn’t pay him after he completed the jobs because they didn’t have the money. My father ended up having to take a loan out at the Haddonfield National Bank just to pay for the work that he had done. The bank helped our family avoid the shame that came with bankruptcy.
When I grew older and married, me and my husband opened an account at the bank because I felt like I owed them for how they helped my family.”
Compton grew up in the comfortable area of Haddonfield, N.J., where her parents tried their best to shield Compton and her brother of the harsh realities that came with the Depression. While many other children were forced to do without, Compton’s mother ensured that her daughter attended her high school dressed as if the economy was booming.
“My mother struggled to dress me well because she didn’t want me to become discouraged attending school with others who had money. My mother spent every dime she could on me,” Compton said.
Compton’s parents strived to shelter their children from the hardships of the Depression and give their children a fulfilling childhood.
The family partook in recreational activities such as picnics, camping, church gatherings, firework displays and days at Clementon Lake Park. These activities were readily available because of their low or free price.
As the difficulties of the Depression subsided and Compton grew older, she took jobs as secretary of business at Ancora hospital and then worked at the Internal Revenue Service.
She managed to obtain a comfortable life in Gibbstown, N.J. with her husband and two children; yet her memories from America’s 1929 stock market crash are never too far from her memory, especially with such similarities occurring in the present day.
“I think it’s going to be worse [than the Depression] if it keeps up,” Compton said. “Some change needs to occur in our country so that America doesn’t have to go through times like this again.”