After the World War I, there was the worst economic depression commonly known as the Great Depression, which is said to be the longest, deepest and most widespread in the 20th century. It is said to have started in the US with the falling prices of stokes in 1929. In US, it resulted to unemployment of 25%. To mitigate the problem, the then president of the United States of America, Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated economic programmes collectively known as The New Deal. The New Deal focused on provision of relief to the poor and the unemployed, normalizing the economy, and financial system reforms to prevent resurgence of another economic crisis. The deal faced a lot of critic especially on the relief provision to the impoverished.
The relief provision programme involved providing welfare benefits to the poor and the unemployed. It included provision of; public housing, medical care, food and supplementary security Income (SSI). This idea created a big debate where by some Americans felt it was a good programme in helping the poor while others felt it was a bad approach in solving the problem since it was creating a culture of dependency rather than responsible people. This debate gave rise to two terms, “deserving poor” and ‘undeserving poor”. Deserving poor were considered as the; sick, old, windows, children and severely disabled while the undeserving poor were the people who were able to work, but did not work due to one reason or another. Therefore, the poor were classified in the two categories and later found out that majority of the impoverished Americans were undeserving. Considering those factors, Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the programme approach to putting people to work through works progress administration (WPR) and civilian conservation corps (CCC) initiatives.
The debate on the New Deal was largely triggered by the famous Dorothea Lange’s pictures especially the “Migrant Mother”. The first “Migrant Mother” picture is an image of a mother with her children in need of support and help. In this one can draw an impression that the family is poor and in-need of help. This point of view is the one that made Franklin Roosevelt to make the first relief provision programme to the impoverished. Then, there was a second picture of the same family taken by Lange which gave a different opinion on the poverty situation affecting the family. This is a picture of the 32 year old woman with a baby in her arms and a teenage daughter. The question raised here was whether it was appropriate for a person to have so many children and yet he or she cannot raise money to provide for them. Still in the picture there is an open suitcase with disarranged clothes which would depict indiscipline and irresponsibility. Consequently, the issue of undeserving poor who are irresponsible rose. Critics argued that proving relief to such families was not a sustainable way of mitigating the unemployment and poverty problems, so the policy changed to providing relief aid to the deserving poor Americans and work to the undeserving poor Americans.
Dorothea Lange was a photographer who had compassion to the poor and suffering. On the onset of the Great Depression, she focused her work to the unemployed and the homeless people, hence getting a job with the Farm Security Administration (the firm that she was working for when she took the migrant mother pictures). In her work she saw a needy mother and felt the compassion to help her with her work thus taking her photo. Her purpose was to show the world the needs and suffering experienced by the migrant workers. Interestingly, the women whose picture was taken, Florence Thompson did not appreciate Lange’s work; instead she blamed her for using the picture for her own benefits. Thompson was quoted saying that she did not gain anything from it and was angry and bitter because of it.
Every image can trigger different visions and opinions depending on the person seeing it. Therefore, it is imperative to look at a situation with open mind so that one can be able to see all possibilities and implications. This can enable one to make officiate and effective concrete decisions.
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