Relief, Unemployment, and Reform during the Great DepressionAbigail Trollinger
In the 1930s, the unemployed were organizing. Jobless workers felt they were “entitled" to a new kind of government protection—the protection from undeserved unemployment and the financial straits that such unemployment created. They wanted dignified forms of relief (including work relief) during the Depression, and unemployment insurance after.
Becoming Entitled artfully chronicles the emergence of this worker entitlement and the people who cultivated it. Abigail Trollinger focuses largely on Chicago after the Progressive Era, where the settlement house and labor movements both flourished. She shows how reformers joined workers and relief officials to redeem the unemployed and secure government-funded social insurance for them. Becoming Entitled also offers a critical reappraisal of New Deal social and economic changes, suggesting that the transformations of the 1930s came from reformers in the “middle,” who helped establish a limited form of entitlement for workers.
Ultimately, Trollinger highlights the achievements made by reformers working on city- and nation-wide issues. She captures the moment when some people shed the stigma that came with unemployment and demanded that the government do the same.
“In this deeply researched volume, Abby Trollinger causes us to rethink what we know about the history of unemployment and social insurance. By focusing on Chicago, Trollinger makes a compelling argument: settlement house activists and the unemployed worked together to make the case that workers should be entitled to social protection from the vagaries of the labor market. With careful attention to the relationship among gender, class, and public policy, Becoming Entitled adds an essential layer to the story of how the Great Depression era changed America.”
—Jon Shelton, Associate Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay, and author of Teacher Strike!: Public Education and the Making of a New American Political Order
"Abigail Trollinger’s incisive examination of unemployment compensation in 1930s Chicago could not be more timely or necessary. As Americans debate how best to aid unemployed workers, Trollinger illustrates the importance of collaboration among reformers, labor, and public officials to secure new rights. This study also notes the pitfalls, however, of incomplete efforts to gain a clear claim—an entitlement—to assistance. The failures of New Deal reforms to remove the stigmas of dependency or obstacles of race and gender provide us with a cautionary history critical for any discussion on fixing our overwhelmed unemployment system. This well-written, clear investigation is a necessary addition to our understanding of the New Deal and government obligations to all citizens.”
—Martha May, Professor and Chair of the Department of History at Western Connecticut State University, and author of Women’s Roles in Twentieth-Century America
" (Trollinger) paints a clear portrait of ideas about work, unemployment, and relief from this crucial era, demonstrating how the economic collapse overwhelmed local charities and pushed voters to turn to the government to help solve their problems. Summing Up: Recommended."
"Trollinger’s admirable study reveals the important role of the
middle ranks in New Deal decision making."
—Journal of Interdisciplinary History
"Trollinger’s work would seem to be a valuable addition to the literature on how a shift in thinking on entitlement swept through many different groups during the Great Depression."
—Labor: Studies in Working-Class History
“A Road to Peace and Freedom”Robert M. Zecker