The World of Tomorrow: The Changing Face of MigrantsThe Great Depression set thousands of unemployed on the road and rails in search of work. Both the face and hopes of these migrants were different from that of the hobo. For one, most were forced to go out and search for work. There was no romance, either real or imagined, about life on the tramp during the Depression. Secondly, these migrants hoped to reach a point, find work, and settle. Problem was, there were few prospects.
In January 1933, the nation's homeless population was conservatively estimated at a million and a half, seven hundred thousand of whom were believed to be in transit or transients. A decade of massive unemployement, bank failures, foreclosures, and evictions eventually forced as many as 2 million people into transience.1
In Men On The Move, Anderson draws distinctions between the new transients and those of old by noting the shift in tone between a verse such as this:
Here are my two hands that have been idle so long,
written by Del Wilcox and published in a publication at a federal transient camp in Iowa, and the following:
I've topped the spruce and worked the sluice,
The tone of the new transient was one of frustration, not of lusty freedom. The oral and written tradition of the hobo generally did not speak of despair; struggle yes, but not the despair of the Depression's migrating unemployed.
Children on the road was a subject of Thomas Minehan's Boy and Girl Tramps of America (1934). Minehan roamed the country to gather material for his study. Hard times at home often precipitated a young person's descent to the road.4 excerpt