The American Vision Modern Times © 2010
Postwar America, 1945-1960
This chapter describes how the nation's postwar prosperity impacted American families, business, and culture.
Section 1 describes the domestic policies of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. During the late 1940s, a Republican-dominated Congress was determined to rein in labor and to defeat many of President Truman's Fair Deal proposals. Even though critics denounced his domestic, foreign, and civil rights policies, Truman squeaked out a win in the 1948 presidential election. His Fair Deal brought a raise in the minimum wage, an extension of Social Security, and low-income housing and rent subsidies. War hero Dwight D. Eisenhower won the 1952 presidential election. Eisenhower, a Republican, described his political beliefs as "middle of the road." While he cut federal spending and worked to limit the federal government's role in the nation's economy, he also extended the Social Security system and unemployment compensation and raised the minimum wage. Under his direction, the government began construction on two large projects—the interstate highway system and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway.
Section 2 describes American society in the 1950s. An "economy of abundance" turned the 1950s into a decade of incredible prosperity. The average income of American families roughly tripled, and GI Benefits and tax deductions made home ownership affordable for many Americans. Suburbs grew as families and their baby boom children moved to capture their own piece of the American dream. White-collar jobs, multinational corporations, and franchises characterized American business. Medical breakthroughs helped families lead healthier lives, while transistors revolutionized the electronics industry and computers made their business debut. Millions of television viewers tuned in each week to watch such programs as "I Love Lucy," "Gunsmoke," and "The Ed Sullivan Show." All forms of mass media presented a narrow view of American culture that reinforced middle-class suburban values. Some youth rejected the conformist ideals that adult society promoted and developed a culture all their own. African American-inspired rock'n'roll expressed youthful restlessness, and the beats used art to criticize modern society. While African American entertainers were accepted in rock'n'roll, they found few opportunities in television and films.
Section 3 identifies those groups who did not share in the prosperity of the 1950s. Most Americans were unaware of the millions of "invisible" poor who suffered in a cycle of poverty. From the crowded inner cities to the mountains of Appalachia to the farmlands of the West, the poor struggled to survive amid inadequate healthcare, substandard housing, and few opportunities to break out of poverty. African Americans living in the inner cities faced the additional challenge of racial discrimination. Long hours, little pay, and unbearable living conditions defined Hispanic farm laborers' lives. Native Americans, the poorest group in the nation, found their conditions worsened after the federal government employed a termination policy that was designed to integrate Native Americans into mainstream society. Middle-class white Americans were not immune to social problems as the 1950s saw an increase in juvenile delinquency.