The wars America has fought have shaped our society and economy. Learning and discussing our history is a way to honor and remember both the brave individuals who fought and their resilient loved ones at home who kept our country moving forward.
World War II notably represents an undeniable shift in our nation’s values and the economy that have led to what we see as the American Dream.
History buffs out there, tell me if you have differing opinions!
World War II is often credited with putting an end to the Great Depression. As can be seen from the chart below, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had been falling and unemployment was still hovering around 14% before the war.
However, the government required a massive production of war material. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, in 1941, government spending was about 30% of GDP (not far off from today’s standards). By 1944, near the end of the war, it rose to 79% of total GDP! The top tax rate reached 94%!
Remember how it felt at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic when grocery store shelves were bare and even Amazon was out of supply? That was pretty normal for Americans during WWII.
Water heaters, refrigerators, tires, and anything else involving iron and rubber weren’t easy to purchase as raw materials were needed for the war. The War Production Board literally made sure civilians weren’t getting these materials. Americans were also encouraged to grow and can/freeze their own food.
It was highly encouraged that Americans use any of their extra income (which was controlled) to purchase war bonds. Even though unemployment was low, Americans were consuming far less due to these restrictions.
(Can you imagine people’s reactions today if the government instituted these kinds of restrictions and taxes? And we think we’ve had it bad during COVID-19!)
Here is where things really change!
Many Americans who joined the workforce ended up staying in the workforce after the war (America’s women!). This shot up production and consumption, leading to extended economic growth and a massive change in societal standards for working women.
The war also introduced a new era of collaboration between the government and the private sector. This is what primarily rocketed America to an economic superpower.
Baby Boom and the G.I. Bill
Ah, the infamous Baby Boomers!
Birth rates in the United States exploded for a few reasons. Many couples put off marriage until the soldiers were finally home from the war. There was also a new sense of economic confidence that led to families feeling capable and optimistic for providing for a baby.
Notably, the G.I. bill assisted returning soldiers with buying homes, pursuing college educations, and purchasing vehicles. As a result, in 1947, nearly half of college admissions were veterans! The availability of education and financing furthered the ideals of nuclear suburban living… the “American Dream.” This is when a home, family, education, and car finally became available to the masses.
Memorial Day is observed to remember those who lost their lives while in service. A few G.I. benefits will never repay the families of the soldiers left behind. I therefore want to present a few ways we can honor fallen soldiers by supporting their families:
- Fallen Patriots: Their mission is to provide scholarships to military children who lost a parent in the line of duty. They believe it is one of the most important investments into furthering the American Dream, and I cannot disagree! I encourage you to check out their website if you wish to honor fallen soldiers in this way.
- Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society: Their mission is to provide financial, educational, and other assistance to members of the Naval Service of the United States, eligible family members, and survivors when in need. This is a great way to memorialize the fallen and aid the veterans back at home.
- Fisher House’s Heroes’ Legacy Scholarship: Their program honors both those fallen in battle and those disabled through military service. The scholarship program is partially funded each year by proceeds from President Obama’s book, “Of Thee I Sing. A Letter to My Daughters.” The rest is funded by donations.
For tax-conscientious givers out there, talk to your accountant and financial advisor before gifting. There may be a way to donate appreciated stock or make a Qualified Charitable Contribution from an IRA.
The fallen soldiers are not here for me to thank. However, we can each find our own ways to honor and remember them whether it’s through donating our money, volunteering our time, or lending our compassion to their families and loved ones.