The Home Front during World War II
The Bridgeville Area Historical Society welcomed back one of its favorite speakers, Todd DePastino, for its October program meeting. Dr. DePastino is a historian and writer specializing in the United States in the mid-20th century.
His specific topic for this presentation was the Home Front in World War II, focusing on the social-economic effects of taxation, investment in war bonds, price control and rationing.
The speaker’s review of taxation was quite revealing. He showed an exhibit of federal spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). In World War II, it peaked at 47 percent (today, it is at 25 percent). To achieve this, the personal income tax rate was dramatically increased.
At the peak of the war, the minimum tax rate was 23 percent (for people earning $500 a year); the maximum rate, for folks earning more than $200,000 per year, was 94 percent.
A parallel effort to help finance the war effort was the introduction of war bonds, done primarily to deter inflation. In the First World War, the consumer price index went up about 30 percent in two years as a consequence of the shortage of consumer goods. This time, the federal economists sought to prevent a repetition by encouraging consumers to invest their discretionary income in war bonds.
Although the president wanted this to be a compulsory requirement, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau convinced him that a voluntary program would appeal to the ordinary citizen’s sense of patriotism and allow him or her to be part of the war effort. The result was an outpouring of $186 billion dollars, enough to pay for more than half of the war’s expenses.
Consumer price control was another government experiment in managing the economy. At its peak, the Office of Price Administration was able to freeze prices on 90 percent of consumer goods. Despite an aggressive propaganda effort to popularize this effort, it was greatly resented by the public.
Rationing was the final tool in the managed economy; it, too, was unpopular. The first item to be rationed was sugar, an item that was indeed in very short supply. It was hoped that this move would ensure that every consumer got a fair, albeit reduced, share in the commodity. Initially, sugar was rationed to half a pound per week per person. Coupon books were provided to each household; the coupons eventually were collected and redeemed by the local ration boards.
Next came coffee, quickly followed by shoes (one pair per person every six months). Gasoline was especially restricted. Most drivers received “A” cards that allowed them three or four gallons of gas per week. Exceptions were made for war workers, who needed a car to get to work, and for other “essential” drivers.
Dr. DePastino is a dynamic speaker, particularly dealing with subjects from the era in which he specializes; it is always a treat to attend one of his presentations.
The next program will be presented at 7:30 pm Nov. 27 in the Chartiers Room of the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department. Brian Charlton, curator-archivist of the Donora Historical Society, will discuss “The 1948 Smog Tragedy, Donora, Pa.”
John F. Oyler is a contributing writer. You can reach him at 412-343-1652 or email@example.com. Read more from him at mywutb.blogspot.com.