Glen Elder, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina who has studied young adults who came of age from 1929 to 1939, sees many similarities with their 21st century counterparts: the economic expansion, the sudden contraction, the stubborn unemployment.
Despite the iconic images of bread lines and migrants, not all Depression-era families were affected equally, he explained.
"There was not just one story, but many stories, depending on your age, gender and circumstances," said Elder, author of "Children of the Great Depression," which is providing a baseline for scholars to examine today's narratives.
Then, as now, those in the middle class were more insulated from the worst ravages of the new financial realities, while those on the lowest rungs of the ladder -- without savings, education and social networks -- were the hardest hit.
That would certainly describe Sanchez, 23, of Des Plaines, Ill. She was pursuing an associate's degree in business when national headlines turned personal. In March 2008, the cafeteria that employed her dad shut down. Five months later, her mom, too, was pink-slipped from her manufacturing job.
At first, her parents trimmed the obvious expenses: Internet, cable, dining out. But when no more fat remained in the family budget, they turned to their daughter.
"It was hard. ... I really liked school," said Sanchez, who has three younger siblings. "But if I didn't bring in some money, we'd lose our house."
Sanchez went to work, first making metal parts for $9 an hour, 45 hours a week, then moving to the office of a plastic bag company. "I told my parents, 'You supported me for 18 years, so now it's my turn.' "
After a four-year hiatus, Sanchez finally plans to return to Harper next month, thanks to a scholarship, and she aims to be the first in her family to graduate from college. But the recent struggles have left an indelible imprint -- for instance, this time around, she's opting to keep her full-time job and enroll in evening classes.
Also, she's more prudent with her money, rarely going to movies, the mall or Six Flags -- all regular diversions in her pre-recession life. "I know if this happened once, it could happen again."
That skittishness was echoed by many elderly Chicago-area residents, recalling adversity with perfect clarity. Many confessed to having a complicated relationship with money, looking back on their lives and regretting their inability to spend on vacations or other indulgences. Tales of diluting dishwashing liquid or shampoo with water to make it last longer, stooping to pick up a penny on the sidewalk and smoothing out gift wrap or tinfoil were common, remaining long after the hardship of the Depression passed.
Bernice Davis, 91, remembered moving from Milwaukee at age 9, when her father lost his jewelry business.
And her husband's own experiences played out as a lifelong distaste for credit and living beyond one's means.
"He'd say, 'If you have money, you can buy it. If not, forget it,' " said Davis, a Lincolnwood widow who was married for 62 years.
Anderhous understands the impact of such calamities. Her father was a furrier during the Depression, and her family had to take in a boarder to make ends meet. Later, her mom went to work, thrusting the 8-year-old into the role of early caregiver to her 6-year-old sister.
"We wanted our mother home with us," Anderhous said.
For girls, the importance of family and household emerged from the Depression as one of the strongest ideals, while for boys, it was their role as breadwinner, Elder said.
"It's all very much connected to economic deprivation," he said, adding that it will take about a decade before researchers can fully measure the most enduring effects of the recession.
Today, we're in the midst of another period of "redefining of our value system," said Alex Chernev, an associate professor of marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
Ten years ago, everyone was an aspiring tech entrepreneur, hoping to launch a startup and sell to a venture capital firm for millions, he said. But his current crop of students is showing much more interest in the nonprofit world. "It's less about money and more about self-expression," Chernev said.
In the absence of a robust paycheck, Kathryn O'Malley is certainly concentrating on passion, not profession.
After getting a bachelor's degree in psychology in 2009 from Washington University in St. Louis, the 26-year-old found only dead ends. So, she stopped looking for full-time employment, jettisoned graduate school and zeroed in on her real love: food.
She runs dramaticpancake.com, a blog featuring great cooks and mouthwatering recipes and attracting 25,000 unique visitors a month.
"My mom was really skeptical. ... Her generation sees school and degrees as the one avenue to success," O'Malley said. "I'm not sure I see it that way. ... I think a lot of us are going the route where we're trying to be more fulfilled."
Nick Gaseor, 21, who graduated in May with a bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago, is upbeat about his prospects, despite living with his parents in Norridge and caddying at Ridgemoor Country Club -- the same job he's held since high school.
What makes his situation more tolerable is that many of his friends are in the same boat -- in jobs, not careers, and back in their old bedrooms. Gaseor said they're careful about money, "especially when it comes to gas and driving" and unnecessary expenditures. "I've had the same wardrobe since high school," he noted dryly.
Even so, Gaseor has few complaints. He said he's confident his situation is temporary, that he'll get a "real job" and use his political science degree down the road, and no one is threatening eviction.
"I would love to have my own place," he said. "But my parents have told me that as long as I cut the grass in the summer and shovel snow in the winter, I can stay."
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