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The Great Depression

Daily Life in the City

History >> The Great Depression

Life in the big city was very difficult for many people during the Great Depression. Food was scarce and jobs were difficult to come by. Once a person lost their job, they were often evicted from their home or apartment. They either went to live with a relative or ended up living in a shack in one of the makeshift cities called Hoovervilles.

What did they eat?

People in the city often had little to eat. Unlike farmers, they didn't have crops, chickens, or a vegetable garden where they could grow their own food. Once the money ran out, they had nothing to eat. They tried various ways to make the little food they had last longer. This included new recipes such as "Depression cake" (cake made without hard to get ingredients like butter and eggs) and "Mock-apple pie" (where they substituted crackers for apples).

People standing in line for food
Soup Kitchen Line in Chicago
Source: National Archives
Soup Kitchens

In order to keep people from starving, many charities (and eventually the government) opened up soup kitchens where people could get a free meal. Sometimes people would wait in line for hours to get a bowl of watery soup and maybe some bread. Soup was popular because they could always add water to make more.

What did they wear?

Buying new clothing was not an option for many people during the Great Depression. People wore hand-me-downs from relatives or sewed their own clothes. Many women learned how to knit so they could make socks or sweaters. Poor people used cardboard to patch up their shoes. They called it "Hoover leather" after President Hoover.

What did they do for fun?

People still tried to have fun to take their minds off their troubles. They enjoyed going to the movies and listening to radio shows. Kids played stickball in the streets or card games at home.

Did the kids still go to school?

Kids still went to school in the cities during the Great Depression, although many had to drop out when they were 16 or 17 to get jobs. In some cases, public schools had to close or couldn't afford basic items like books. Programs such as sports, music, and art were sometimes cancelled to save costs.


Most cities in the U.S. had an area where people evicted from their homes built small one-room shacks to live in. The shacks were made from anything they could find such as cardboard, wood scraps, cement blocks, and tar paper. These makeshift shantytowns were called "Hoovervilles" after President Hoover. They often formed near soup kitchens where people could get a free meal.

Was life bad for everyone?

Not everyone in the city was poor, hungry, and out of a job during the Great Depression. Some people continued to work and have money for food and even luxury items. However, most people had to cut back somewhere to make ends meet.

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