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If President Hoover Was Such a Great Humanitarian, Why Didn't He Organize Help For US Citizens In The Great Depression?

+2 votes
Feb 15 in Politics & Government ✌ by Virginia (6,466 points)
edited Feb 15 by Virginia

Records were not kept of starvation in the USA in the 1930's, but historians estimate that 3 million Americans died, even while millions of hogs were slaughtered and buried, milk was dumped, etc., all to  prop prices up! This was the decade in which Stalin (supposedly on purpose) caused ten million Russians to starve. But Hoover is quoted to say that even the hoboes had enough to eat.

* * *

This is my own guess: Maybe Hoover really believed in our capitalistic system of democracy, and assumed it would self-correct without any help from government? Depressions had occurred in the past, and the USA had always come out of them just fine. And it was American enterprise, initiative and wealth that saved Russian people, so maybe Hoover just did not believe capitalism could fail?

* * *

But by 1932, radical left-wing types were out in the streets, and without FDR's policies who knows? This photo is from the Seattle Times newspaper; there were eight of these homeless settlements in Seattle, known as "Hoovervilles."


3 Answers

Kninjanin Feb 15

It is hard to answer. It could be written a historical study about it.

Rooster Feb 15

I just don't know much about Hoover. I know FDR had a hard time building the country back up but actually, the problems beginning in Europe actually helped America's industry come back to life.

The closer it came to war in Europe? The better we did from selling so much to the Europeans. FDR was the right man to recognize this and some of his great programs are still in use today.

Virginia Rooster Feb 15

Rooster, yes I learned about some of what you mention also...fascinating...apparently, it was after WWI that the USA emerged as a world power! 

And FDR, I am more amazed all the time, his greatness, the more I learn about him. 

Kninjanin Rooster Feb 15

In WWI, the USA began to be interested in the European affairs. Then they stopped carrying about Europe. They were interested in European affairs in WWII and they still are.

TheOtherTink Feb 16

I think Hoover did try to ease the situation, but did not realize how serious it was.

As for 3 million people starving (to death, I presume), I don't believe it.  If 3 million people had starved to death in the US, wouldn't Woody Guthrie or the Almanac Singers or Pete Seeger have written songs about it?

I do recall in The Grapes of Wrath, hungry field workers being outraged that fruit was allowed to rot (to shore up prices), but they were not allowed to eat it, so yes, I can believe there was plenty of hunger and malnutrition, but I don't think millions starved to death.

Wikipedia sometimes comes up with fascinating articles, O'Tink! I see even more how interesting a man was Hoover; even to criticizing Eisenhower for not dismantling the New Deal.

There seems no way for us ever to know the intensity of USA starvation during the Great records were kept, no motivation for doing so. Russia published an article claiming seven million had died in the USA, but that has indeed been discredited, an axe to grind...also, I don't know who these "historians" are who estimate the three million. However, I think I am going to use that figure as the best available, but open to revision!

Have your studied much about Hoover? Do you think he had valid points in his criticism of the New Deal? Truly I myself see the New Deal with more and more admiration, but still open to deeper perspectives...

Well, Virginia, the "historians" who claim 3 million died of starvation during the Great Depression would have to explain the following rather elementary facts about the death rates in the US during that period:


You will note that the crude death rate in the US was about 1200 per 100,000 in the 1920s, and that it had dropped to about 1100 in the 1930s.  During the 1930s, there were about 120 million people living in the US, so the total number of deaths per year would have been about 1,320,000.

Now if, as the "historians" claim, there had been 3 million extra deaths due to starvation between, say, 1930 and 1940, that would have been an average extra 300,000 deaths a year, which would have represented an increase in total annual deaths of about 23%, which means the death rate per 100,000 should have been about 1350 instead of the 1100 shown on the graph. Such a spike would have been clearly visible over the noise level of about +/- 50 that characterizes the graph.  Indeed, it would have been about half the size of the 1918 spike, which was due to the influenza pandemic.

And yet, there is no sign of ANY death rate spike during the Great Depression. I'm very curious as to what the "historians" would say about that.

O'Tink, here is why I am still skeptical, still think the 3 million starvation could have happened...and that is, your analysis assumes everything else stays steady. However, there is strong evidence (in test animals anyway, mice/rats?) that eating less actually lengthens life. In fact, some of the figures I was looking at did suggest an increase in average lifespan (USA) during the Great Depression.

So, LOTS of people eating less, however healthy level not starvation, their life lengthens significantly - raising the average and thus masking the extensive starvation to death.

Yes, Virginia, I read the "masking" argument in a few places when I looked this starvation claim up... but when you check the numbers, it comes nowhere close to holding up.

In order to mask 300,000 starvation deaths per year, there would have had to have been MASSIVE reductions (on the order of 50%) in other major causes of death (e.g., cardiovascular & renal disease and cancer). There were indeed SLIGHT reductions in these causes of death during the worst of the Great Depression, as this graph shows, but they were not nearly enough to mask the putative 300,000 starvation deaths/year, which would have suddenly become the second-largest cause of death in the nation, yet the researchers who prepared this graph make no mention of starvation having become a significant cause of death at that time.

Oops, their graph won't post here, but check Figure 4 of the paper at

The only significant cause of death that showed a large steady decline in those days was tuberculosis, but that was a trend that had been going on for years before the Great Depression and continued afterward, so it had nothing to do with the Depression per se.  Nor were the numbers involved nearly large enough to mask 300,000 starvation deaths/year.

O'Tink, that is a fascinating article from the NIH! Including this, from the abstract: "Population health did not decline and indeed generally improved during the 4 years of the Great Depression, 1930–1933....

Also, from the abstract look at this! "For most age groups, mortality tended to peak during years of strong economic expansion (such as 1923, 1926, 1929, and 1936–1937). In contrast, the recessions of 1921, 1930–1933, and 1938 coincided with declines in mortality and gains in life expectancy."

So life expectancy in general seemed to rise during recessions, at least before 1940? But Tink, that point about the rats and mice: That severely reduced calories actually lengthened their life span in maybe it's not so much a reduction in other specific causes of death and more a general increase in longevity...hmmm...except as I write this I do see what (I think) you are saying, that for such masking the reduced mortality should show up in the big diseases...

* * *

N'kay, 300,000 starvation deaths would have been 0.2% of the 1930 population 123,000,000...huge...although of course the putative deaths would prolly be lower in 1930 and build slowly into 1933-34. 

Well, being something of a contrarian, ima keep exploring that 3 million figure, armed with my new cynicism along with the possibility that there was indeed widespread denial that (gasp) our wonderful capitalism could actually allow such a debacle...I would like to see how those "historians" came to their estimate! 

Actually, something extremely intriguing coming out from our discussion is that USA health and life expectancy is/was going up during recessions, and down during periods of economic growth...

Yes, Virginia, that's exactly what I am saying... if large numbers of starvation deaths suddenly appeared, but the overall death rate stayed the same or even declined a little, then the causes of death other than starvation must have declined by at least as much as the starvation deaths rose. But they didn't do that. Not even close.

Now, how could this have been possible, if the "historians'" starvation claims are true?  The only explanation would be that there was massive fraud engaged in by millions of doctors and coroners, who would have falsely entered heart disease or renal failure or pneumonia or cancer on the death certificates instead of starvation. Or perhaps the deaths weren't recorded at all.

I find such explanations strain credulity in a democracy; somebody would have spilled the beans at the time.  Even the Soviets were unable to cover up their famines, despite their best efforts and those of the NY Times' fake newsman of the day, Walter Duranty.  And we are now supposed to take seriously the claims of revisionist "historians", who make their remarkable discoveries 85 years after the fact?

I think it is far more likely that the "historians" are simply part of the Russian disinformation campaign, toning down the initial ridiculous claim of 7 million deaths by starvation to a lesser figure.  But I would be interested in seeing their arguments, if you can find a reference.

O'Kay, O'Tink, back up a bit? Your comment above of "but the overall death rate stayed the same or even declined a little..." - THAT is where I am questioning, where the masking would have happened!

Because, could the overall death rate in the Great Depression have declined A LOT??? Even without really impacting the big disease categories? That is, when laboratory test animals are give a low calorie but otherwise healthy diet, they live significantly longer. And, we are both you and I, reading that general health and life expectancy get better during recessions/hard times...

What if the national health and life expectancy increased SO much during the Great Depression that it masked the starvation? 

* * *

...and btw, maybe I posted another starvation comment under the wrong Q because I cannot find it now, because meanwhile I am REALLY doubting that number of three million...I did more research...just could NOT have happened no matter how much masking took place...people helped each other out SO much during those years...

...but I will still keep an eye out for those "historians" indeed that is interesting idea of the Russian disinformation folks!!! ;)  I read in one place that Pravda was supposed to be claiming 8 million starved in USA :sick:  :woot:

But Virginia, how could the overall death rate from disease have declined a lot if the recorded major disease causes of death (heart disease, renal failure, pneumonia and flu, cancer, etc.) didn't decline significantly, as per the NIH paper I cited?  Only if there was massive fraud in the recording process.

If the total death rate per 100,000 from all causes remained steady at about 1100 per year, that means about 1,320,000 out of a population of about 120 million died each year from all causes.  If suddenly 300,000 of those deaths were caused by starvation, that means 300,000 fewer deaths must have been caused by disease. But the 300,000 fewer disease deaths is precisely what we do NOT see in the statistics.

O'Tink...actually perhaps I am STILL not seeing your point fully...but I am thinking it might not be necessary for those big killers to decline for life expectancy to increase? Hmmm...I am from a different generation than you...for me, lots of people don't die of 'causes/diseases,' they just get old, feel their time has come and then die. 

In fact, one of my own big projects now is co-ordinating fun and meaningful events etc. for the old folks, so they will keep an interest in life and keep on I truly believe the life experience and wisdom/peace of the elderly is essential for our nation, especially now. In my worldview then, renal, flu, heart, cancer deaths could remain undisturbed even while people overall live longer! (My own personal speculation from my own life experience, I think you already know.) 

Anyway, so that kind of increase would be where the masking of starvation would happen, rather than reduction of terminal disease deaths.

* * *

AND, I came here to give you this figure; this site QUIZLET did not give its source, but appears reputable (whatever reputable may mean) - far cry from three million: "Although many people went hungry, the number of recorded deaths from starvation during the depression was 110,000, although many other illnesses and deaths were probably related to a lack of nutrition."

Tink...this is actually an addition to yesterday's post...because in pondering, I thought of other reasons than fraud for massive mis-reporting of cause of death...

...and that is, the physician is not thinking of accuracy of statistics when he/she fills out the certificate, but other factors like the comfort of the family. So, deaths from starvation might get recorded as such only rarely. The doctor would search out another cause of death, an underlying disease truly present, which would not have killed the person without the starvation. And a grieving family is spared that humiliation.

btw, I found another instance of strange use of statistics from the Great Depression, politically influenced, so interesting I will prolly post as a separate Q...

* * *

Basically I am saying that if I see statistics that don't reflect my own personal experience, I become very cautious about relying on them...

Yes, Virginia, I can understand why a physician might not report starvation as the immediate cause of death to spare the family's feelings, but still, if 300,000 people a year were dying of starvation across the country, people would know it... it would have been the second most common cause of death, and wouldn't the left-wingers of the day have been shouting mass starvation from the rooftops as one of the many evils of capitalism, if it really was happening?

But still, nobody said anything, until the "historians" came along 85 years later?  :ermm:

Not very credible.

And regarding, " I truly believe the life experience and wisdom/peace of the elderly is essential for our nation, especially now. In my worldview then, renal, flu, heart, cancer deaths could remain undisturbed even while people overall live longer!"  I couldn't agree more, Virginia, that peace of mind and a positive attitude can extend one's life, even in the presence of mortal disease. But in that case, even though the total number of, say, eventual cancer deaths may stay constant, those deaths are spread out over a greater number of years, so the annual rate (i.e., the number of deaths per year) would have to get smaller.

O'Tink, just to make certain you saw that I am now also really questioning that starvation figure of 3 million? But the reason is that would mean, spread over ten years 1931-1940, that 0.2% or one in 500 people would have starved to death! In a (1930) population of 123 million, average three hundred thousand per year for ten years - I doubt that happened; might have, but I am doubting it.

As for your very last comment, maybe we are coming down to the fact that I just really don't have enough confidence in statistical methods to crunch as finely as that...I would hypothesize masking based on, indeed, the declines in mortality mentioned in your NIH article..."the recessions of ...1930–1933, and 1938 coincided with declines in mortality and gains in life expectancy."

Hmmm...looking over my own last sentence, it appears's not, if you view the world from Virginia's corner...  ;) (sigh) I have more to say, but will wait to see if you have more thoughts?

Yes, Virginia, I saw that you have come to doubt the "historians'" 3 million figure.  I think the NIH paper calculates the increased longevity on the basis of the (small) decreases in mortality rates that they show in their Figure 4.  This is a tricky business, because it is VERY dependent on what age group's mortality is being reduced.  For example, if infant mortality is reduced, that would have a large effect on life expectancy, because a saved infant in those days could then expect to live 60 or more years, whereas a saved 80-year- old might only expect to live another 10 years.

Aha, O'Tink! are well informed in many areas, yes I was not aware of the point concerning WHICH age group mortality is reduced...

Here is an article I found during our discussions; I am thinking of posting it within a separate Q, but may not get around to that so here it is if you would like to play with it! My computer skews it a bit but I THINK this is translated from Pravda, in 2008. And apparently, you and I are not the only ones to engage in kerfuffles about US starvation rates in the Great Depression, it was something of an Internet hot topic for a time! 

Anyway, WikiP removed an article from a Russian poster, in which he offers the figure of 7 million USA starvation deaths during the Depression. The Russian's article is loaded with propaganda and exaggerations/errors  based on this 7 million number, but the interesting part is that his method of calculating that 7 million is accepted by statisticians in the West! (A method rejected by Russians, however.) And in fact, he used the same method statisticians used to calculate starvation (courtesy Stalin policies) in the Ukraine during that same period!

Ok, Virginia, I used published birth, death, immigration and census statistics to see if they jibed.

Between 1930 and 1940, there were 24.8 million live births, 0.7 million immigrants and 14 million deaths, for a net increase in population of 24.8 +0.7 - 14 = 11.4 million. But — holy mackerel! — according to census figures, the population increased from 123 to 132 million between 1930 and 1940, a gain of only 9 millionOver 2 million are missing:O  Could the starvation theorists be right? Over two million deaths (presumably from starvation) unreported between 1930 and 1940?

But then I did a similar study for the years 1920-1930, when no one (not even Borisov) claims there were millions of starvation deaths in the US.  In those years, there were 28.5 million live births, 4.3 million immigrants and 13.8 million deaths, for a net increase of 19 million.  But the census again came up short, recording a gain of only 16.5 million, so once again over 2 million are missing. It seems whatever was going on in 1930-40 was also going on in 1920-30.

My best guess is that the discrepancy would stem from census undercounts in both cases, which would only amount to less than 2% of the entire population. That certainly is much more plausible than undercounts of the deaths, which would amount to 15 or 20% of the death statistics.  Also, I wasn't able to find good emigration statistics, since the US does not keep track of emigration, although recently, it has numbered in the millions, and might be a plausible explanation for the 2 million+ discrepancies I found.

As for Borisov's applying the same methods to the US as statisticians applied to the Ukraine, that argument does not hold water, since the Soviets were notorious for statistical lying.  During the Cold War, it was widely believed that the Soviet Union had the 2nd largest economy in the world.  The truth is (and probably was), that their GDP is not even in the top 10.

O'Tink, that is some impressive work you did! I do recall how everybody was so impressed by the Soviets during the Cold War, assuming their economy was great because their military (read nuclear) technology was so advanced. 

Then some years ago I read that their Cold War military consumed 1/3 of the economy!

Yesterday I watched a documentary on Stalin (supposedly one of the best done on him), and he apparently DID really bring the Soviet economy into modern industrialization - at the expense of hauling all the peasants off to work camps, starving them by millions. But industrialization that took the West 150 years, Stalin accomplished in Russia in 30 years...

However, I am now to the point of mistrusting the West, and wondering how much of what WE get is propaganda. One point that makes me doubt the West just a bit less is Borisov's article; in it, it seems to me he was not questioning the violent devastation under Stalin, but he was saying that the US treated its citizens similarly.

For example; his point about the work camps where men were 'thrown' and paid $30 per month, and then charged $25 in taxes? Well THAT was the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), and the young men (age 18-24, something like that) were indeed paid $30 per month of which $25 was sent home to their families to help out there! Also, the boys were supplied with food, lodging and clothing, so that $5 (equivalent $95 in 2018 dollars) was mainly used for a good time! (I got this information second-hand, from people who lived through the Depression. The CCC was much loved everywhere, as far as I can tell.)

And the "malarial swamps" Borisov has the CCC living/working in? I lived near one of those camps on Mt. Baker in Washington State, and it is beautiful; a church has the site now, for their summer camp programs. The sturdy buildings are original, still beautiful and serviceable. Bottom line, the CCC was a wonderful morale builder, pulling huge numbers of people out of poverty.

So while I am really irritated with the USA right now ;)  :D  <3, folks like Borisov give reason to think that our propaganda is still not as bad as some countries!

What all that has to do with the statistics I am not sure. Soviets known for lying, well was the US much better? Probably...but...well I tend to count on personal experience. The logging industry, the lifeblood of my birthplace right here, was very badly hit in the Depression, but NOBODY starved I am certain. However, this land is VERY rich, and 1930's the fish runs were very strong, harvesting from the forest, gardens, etc. But the Dust bowl? Appalachia? I read that in NYC, 25% of children were malnourished with estimates of 90% malnourishment among school children in some poor rural areas...will we ever really be certain now?

(:D I TOLD you I had more stuff to say...:D)

Yes, Virginia, your impressions jibe with mine.  Propagandist "historians" like Borisov try to give the impression that there was no significant difference between how the US and Soviet governments treated their respective populations.   My parents told me of American communist sympathizers that said much the same sorts of things, although I never heard of any of them claiming millions of famine deaths in the US in the 30s.

When the pinkos were finished and done

With the nonsense and lies that they spun,

They had NO explanation

Why people's migration

Was WESTWARD, 100 to 1.

Tink, your ditty brings a smile...:) reminding me of something I saw on that documentary of the Russian famine of 1921, which incidentally gave me increased respect of Hoover!

My information was largely from my parents' generation, for example the Hoovervilles born out of this trust in capitalism to right itself naturally. But in that Russian famine where Hoover was SO instrumental in saving so many, many radical Americans apparently criticized Hoover because they thought this great Russian experiment in the socialist stuff ought to be left alone to run its course, see if it might lead to something wonderful! 

And Hoover did not respond to criticism he received, even though he had some redeeming documentation, because he did not think that such a tragedy of starvation should be politicized. Yay Hoover!

I never knew that radical lefties actually criticized Hoover for his famine relief work.  How wrong-headed could they get? 

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