IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Employment and Unemployment in the 1930s


  • Robert A. Margo


Recent research on labor markets in the 1930s has shifted attention from aggregate to disaggregate time series and towards microeconomic evidence. The paper begins by reviewing the conventional statistics of the United States labor market during the Great Depression and the paradigms to explain them. It then turns to recent studies of employment and unemployment using disaggregated data of various types. The paper concludes with discussions of research on other aspects of labor markets in the 1930s and on a promising source of microdata for future work.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert A. Margo, 1993. "Employment and Unemployment in the 1930s," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(2), pages 41-59, Spring.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:7:y:1993:i:2:p:41-59 Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.7.2.41

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sundstrom, William A., 1992. "Last Hired, First Fired? Unemployment and Urban Black Workers During the Great Depression," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 52(02), pages 415-429, June.
    2. Claudia Goldin & Robert A. Margo, 1992. "The Great Compression: The Wage Structure in the United States at Mid-Century," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 1-34.
    3. repec:hrv:faseco:30703979 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Whatley, Warren C., 1983. "Labor for the Picking: the New Deal in the South," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 43(04), pages 905-929, December.
    5. Simon, Curtis J & Nardinelli, Clark, 1992. "Does Industrial Diversity Always Reduce Unemployment? Evidence from the Great Depression and After," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 30(2), pages 384-397, April.
    6. Smiley, Gene, 1983. "Recent Unemployment Rate Estimates for the 1920s and 1930s," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 43(02), pages 487-493, June.
    7. De Long, James Bradford & Summers, Lawrence H, 1986. "Is Increased Price Flexibility Stabilizing?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(5), pages 1031-1044, December.
    8. Bernanke, Ben & Parkinson, Martin, 1989. "Unemployment, Inflation, and Wages in the American Depression: Are There Lessons for Europe?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(2), pages 210-214, May.
    9. Margo, Robert A., 1991. "The Microeconomics of Depression Unemployment," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 51(02), pages 333-341, June.
    10. Rees, Albert, 1970. "On Equilibrium in Labor Markets," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 78(2), pages 306-310, March-Apr.
    11. Anthony Patrick O'Brien, 1989. "A Behavioral Explanation for Nominal Wage Rigidity During the Great Depression," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 104(4), pages 719-735.
    12. Smith, James P, 1984. "Race and Human Capital," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(4), pages 685-698, September.
    13. Eichengreen, Barry & Hatton, Tim, 1988. "Interwar Unemployment in International Perspective," Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Working Paper Series qt7bw188gk, Institute of Industrial Relations, UC Berkeley.
    14. Lucas, Robert E, Jr & Rapping, Leonard A, 1972. "Unemployment in the Great Depression: Is There a Full Explanation?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 80(1), pages 186-191, Jan.-Feb..
    15. Lucas, Robert E, Jr & Rapping, Leonard A, 1969. "Real Wages, Employment, and Inflation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 77(5), pages 721-754, Sept./Oct.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Michelle Alexopoulos & Jon Cohen, 2016. "The Medium Is the Measure: Technical Change and Employment, 1909—1949," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 98(4), pages 792-810, October.
    2. Juan-Pierré BRUWER & André VAN DEN BERG, 2017. "The conduciveness of the South African economic environment and Small, Medium and Micro Enterprise sustainability: A literature review," Expert Journal of Business and Management, Sprint Investify, vol. 5(1), pages 1-12.
    3. Bordo, Michael D. & Evans, Charles L., 1995. "Labor productivity during the Great Depression," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 47(1), pages 41-45, January.
    4. Neumann, Todd C. & Fishback, Price V. & Kantor, Shawn, 2010. "The Dynamics of Relief Spending and the Private Urban Labor Market During the New Deal," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 70(01), pages 195-220, March.
    5. Richard B. Freeman, 2013. "Failing the Test? The Flexible U.S. Job Market in the Great Recession," NBER Working Papers 19587, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. repec:dgr:rugggd:gd-108 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Matthew N. Luzzetti & Lee E. Ohanian, 2012. "The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money after 75 Years: The Importance of Being in the Right Place at the Right Time," Chapters,in: Keynes’s General Theory, chapter 7 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    8. repec:bla:intfin:v:19:y:2016:i:3:p:353-374 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Leah Platt Boustan & Price V. Fishback & Shawn Kantor, 2010. "The Effect of Internal Migration on Local Labor Markets:American Cities during the Great Depression," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 28(4), pages 719-746, October.
    10. Jong, H. de & Woltjer, P., 2009. "A Comparison of Real Output and Productivity for British and American Manufacturing in 1935," GGDC Research Memorandum GD-108, Groningen Growth and Development Centre, University of Groningen.
    11. Kris Inwood & Chris Minns & Fraser Summerfield, 2016. "Reverse assimilation? Immigrants in the Canadian labour market during the Great Depression," European Review of Economic History, Oxford University Press, vol. 20(3), pages 299-321.
    12. repec:eee:ehbiol:v:26:y:2017:i:c:p:137-143 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Charles W. Calomiris & Christopher Hanes, 1994. "Historical Macroeconomics and American Macroeconomic History," NBER Working Papers 4935, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Price V. Fishback & John Joseph Wallis, 2012. "What Was New About the New Deal?," NBER Working Papers 18271, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Herman De Jong & Pieter Woltjer, 2011. "Depression dynamics: a new estimate of the Anglo‐American manufacturing productivity gap in the interwar period," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 64(2), pages 472-492, May.
    16. Cooper, R. & Corbae, D., 1997. "Financial Fragility and the Great Depression," Working Papers 97-08, University of Iowa, Department of Economics.
    17. John Komlos, 2016. "Unemployment in a Just Economy," CESifo Working Paper Series 5974, CESifo Group Munich.
    18. George S. Tavlas, 2016. "New Perspectives on the Great Depression: A Review Essay," International Finance, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 19(3), pages 353-374, December.
    19. Rosenbloom, Joshua L. & Sundstrom, William A., 1999. "The Sources of Regional Variation in the Severity of the Great Depression: Evidence from U.S. Manufacturing, 1919–1937," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 59(03), pages 714-747, September.
    20. Daniele Coen-Pirani, 2016. "Fiscal Centralization: Theory and Evidence from the Great Depression," 2016 Meeting Papers 783, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    21. repec:eee:moneco:v:92:y:2017:i:c:p:112-129 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N12 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles
    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:7:y:1993:i:2:p:41-59. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Jane Voros) or (Michael P. Albert). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.