|The wartime economy brought about full employment and, in doing so, achieved
what New Deal programs had been unable to do. In 1940, there were 8 million
Americans unemployed. By 1941, however, unemployment was almost unheard of.
There were actually labor shortages in some industries. As a result, more and more
women entered the workforce. Women took up jobs in industry that had once been
reserved for men, and "Rosie the Riveter" became a popular American icon. By
1945, women made up 36% of the nation's total workforce.
The federal government encouraged Americans to conserve and recycle materials
such as metal, paper, and rubber, which factories could then use for wartime
production. Lots of everyday household trash had value: kitchen fats, old metal
shovels, even empty metal lipstick tubes.
War Bonds provided a crucial source of revenue for the war effort. By sponsoring
public stunts such as celebrity auctions, the federal government used War Bonds to
sell the war to the American public instead of relying on American involvement in the
war to sell bonds.
The necessities of war even influenced American fashion. In the spring of 1942, the
War Production Board became the nation's premier clothing consultant by dictating
styles for civilian apparel that would conserve cloth and metal for the war effort. For
example, menswear rid itself of vests, elbow patches on jackets, and cuffs on pants.
Women's clothing also relied on fewer materials and skirts became shorter and
narrower. De rigueur for patriotic women were efficient, two-piece bathing suits,
which created the biggest public stir since Mrs. Amelia Bloomer. Mr. Marcus of
Nieman-Marcus fame called these suits "patriotic chic."
The federal government also compelled Americans to cut back on foodstuffs and
consumer goods. Americans, for example, needed ration cards to purchase items
such as gasoline, coffee, sugar, and meat. Rationing eventually frustrated many
Americans. For the first time in years, they had money to spend, but there were few
goods available for purchase. This frustration kept mounting until the end of the war.
When the war finally came to a close in 1945, industries returned to consumer
production and Americans went on a buying spree of unprecedented proportions.