The Great Depression

Life on the Unemployment Line - Riding the Rails

Life on the Unemployment Line - Riding the Rails
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 5 to 7
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   5.19

     challenging words:    bindles, bone-chilling, dangerous-and, forged, jobs-chopping, outers, rails, unemployment, hardship, security, cope, traveler, wanderers, workforce, camps, travelers

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Life on the Unemployment Line - Riding the Rails
By Toni Lee Robinson

1     Unemployment caused bitter hardship in the Depression years. In 1933, one quarter of the American workforce, some fifteen million people, were out of work. There were no official programs in place to cope with this kind of crisis. People were desperately searching for jobs. Any job opening was likely to draw hundreds of hopeful applicants.
2     People were willing to do anything to make a living. Men who couldn't find other work sold apples or shined shoes on street corners. Others went from house to house looking for odd jobsóchopping wood, hoeing gardensó anything that would earn a few cents.
3     Families who couldn't make rent or house payments lost their homes. Others had to leave their homes to find work. They went from town to town looking for any job they could find. These homeless travelers were called hobos.
4     Most hobos were men, although sometimes whole families lived the wandering life. People from all backgrounds could be found amongst the "down and outers." Young college grads, blue collar types, even professional men roamed America seeking work. They had neither vehicles nor money to take them where they needed to go. Many of them caught rides on freight trains. This was called "riding the rails."
5     It was a risky mode of travel. "Hopping a freight" often involved running alongside the moving cars and leaping aboard at the last second. One small slip meant being crushed under the wheels of the train. If the doors of the cars were closed, hobos rode on top of the train. This was even more dangerousóand cold! Clinging to the top of a boxcar as the train raced along made for a bone-chilling ride.

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