When the Depression began in 1929 the unemployment rate was 3.2 percent. By late 1932, it had soared to almost 25 percent. Another 25 percent of workers could only find part-time employment. Those lucky enough to have a job endured wage cuts and lived in fear of a sudden layoff. One statistic helps captures the scale of the devastation - in 1929, the U.S. Steel Corporation had 100,000 full-time employees. By late 1932, it had none.
In an era before unemployment insurance, many jobless people became destitute. Shack cities - nicknamed "Hoovervilles" - sprang up in communities across the nation. Another common sight were "breadlines" - long lines of hungry people waiting outside charity institutions for bread or a bowl of soup.