The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


Hard Times

In this year’s State of the Union, President Barack Obama touted job growth and a low unemployment rate as proof that America has rebounded from the Great Recession. But just days before, Donald Trump called the jobs numbers “fiction,” claiming they leave out millions of Americans who can’t find work.

Until the late 19th century, the word “unemployed” mostly referred to women and children. Later, the term was redefined at the federal level to address men whom the government thought weren’t fond of work—in other words, layabouts, loafers and slackers.

From the stereotypes surrounding the unemployed to the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Mexican-Americans to free up jobs for white American men, this episode of BackStory will look at what it means to be jobless and uncover the history behind unemployment in the U.S.