How Did the Dust Bowl Impact the Economy?

The Dust Bowl was both a geographical location in the Midwest and a series of devastating droughts that crippled the economy in the 1930s by shutting down many farms and forcing farmers to leave in search of jobs that did not exist. The first of the droughts occurred when the Great Depression was underway, which meant work was scarce. Many former farmers ended up homeless.

The exodus of farmers and migrant workers from the Dust Bowl was the largest the United States had experienced in such a brief period of time. By 1940, as many as 2.5 million people had left the Great Plains region, 200,000 of them moving to California in hopes of changing their luck. Many Dust Bowl residents simply packed what little they had and left without tying up loose ends or even shutting their doors. As a result, a large number of Midwestern banks and businesses shut down abruptly.

Those who stayed struggled with record low prices for their crops and livestock, a result of the concurrent Great Depression. In 1933, pig farmers slaughtered 6 million animals to reduce supply in hopes of driving up prices. The subsequent public backlash spurred the federal government to create the Surplus Relief Corporation, which ensured surplus crops and livestock fed the poor rather than going to waste.

Author John Steinbeck wrote about the Dust Bowl era in the novels "Of Mice and Men" and "Grapes of Wrath," for which he won a Pulitzer Prize.