Impact of World War II on the U.S. Economy and Workforce

America's involvement in World War II had a significant impact on the economy and workforce of the United States. The United States was still recovering from the impact of the Great Depression and the unemployment rate was hovering around 25%. Our involvement in the war soon changed that rate. American factories were retooled to produce goods to support the war effort and almost overnight the unemployment rate dropped to around 10%. As more men were sent away to fight, women were hired to take over their positions on the assembly lines. Before World War II, women had generally been discouraged from working outside the home. Now, they were being encouraged to take over jobs that had been traditionally considered 'men's work.'

Transcript

In 1941 the United States was still recovering from the great depression. The jobless rate had been as high as 25 percent, bankruptcy was not uncommon, and the standard of living for most Americans was 60 percent lower than before the stock market crash of 1929. When the war started, all that changed. More people were needed to produce the food and weapons for the men on the front lines. The new jobs were taken by many who had been out of work for several years. As more men were sent away to fight, women were hired to take over their positions on the assembly lines. 

Before World War II, women had generally been discouraged from working outside the home. Now they were being encouraged to take over jobs that had been traditionally considered "men's work." existing companies changed their lines from consumer goods to war materials, and new plants were constructed strictly for the creation of products for the war effort. In Ankeny, the Des Moines ordinance plant was already under construction when war was declared. By 1942, .30 and .50 caliber machine gun ammunition began to roll off the line. Jeanne Ersland of Ankeny, formerly Jeanne Gibson, was among the 19,000 people who worked at the facility. 

“I think they gave us a short indoctrination as to what we were there for, and then they took us right to the working area. I stayed in that same working area all the time that i was there. I think the patriotism came as it progressed and I was thinking of going on into the service."

After more than a year at the ordinance plant, Ersland joined the United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve. Following training at Camp LeJune, she was assigned to Cherry Point North Carolina and worked as an aircraft engine mechanic.


Excerpt from "Iowa's WWII Stories," Iowa Public Television, 2006