Washington — One hears with increasing frequency that the country is moving into a depression or is even in a depression.
Such talk comes usually from younger people, those uninitiated in what it means to be in real economic doldrums. However, sometimes it comes from those who went through the Great Depression but who somehow have forgotten how rough it was in those days.
This reporter was a student at the University of Illinois then (class of '37 ). He vividly remembers how low the tuition was but how students waited in line , two blocks long at times, to defer these fees. This enabled them to pay a few dollars a week during the semester, all they could ''dig up'' from waiting tables or other odd jobs and from home where the pantry was also quite bare.
There was a steady stream of hoboes, as they then were called, coming through the university twin-cities of Champaign-Urbana. These were hungry men; and they were asking for work to pay for a meal. Some wandered from place to place in search of jobs, riding freights and sometimes the rods.
Although it was difficult to find a dollar, one could eat on that amount for a day. I got a good start on dealing with my own economic realities by having a chocolate milkshake for breakfast, piled high with ice cream by a young waitress who knew she was providing a meal not a dessert. It cost 10 cents. But a dime was very hard to come by.
Other memories of those days:
Little children, pulling a small wagon, going through garbage pails at the backs of houses, looking for food.
The farm foreclosures. Hardly a day went by without someone on the outskirts of the twin cities--part of one of the richest agriculture areas in the world--losing his farm. There are farm foreclosures today. But, according to statistics provided by Secretary of Agriculture John Block, there still are relatively few compared with what went on in the Great Depression.
Recently I discussed the current economic climate with some farmers living in the area surrounding Champaign-Urbana. They said that farmers were indeed ''hurting,'' particularly those who raised grain. They were feeling the cost-price squeeze. The high interest rates, they said, were ''killing'' them.
''But,'' said one farmer, ''this is nothing like the Great Depression.'' Then ,he said, he was fighting to save his farm. Now, he conceded, were it not that he was making hardly anything on his investment, he would be considered by many affluent.
I also stopped by the university. Enrollment was up from about 11,000 in the '30s to 35,000. There were indeed recession-related problems. Some students were dropping out for lack of funds. Many others could not find enough money to enroll--in any college or university.
The university also faced the prospect of less and less support from funds provided by the state legislature. Hence it was making an unprec-edented effort to tap private resources.
But there simply is not the feeling of a big depression--in Illinois or in other regions visited by this reporter in recent months.
True, people are crimped financially and are having to cut back. Some are having to tighten their belts quite appreciably. But that is about all.
In industrial areas all around the US there have been big layoffs of workers. The unemployed are having their own private depression. But unemployment compensation and welfare helps out these days. Often the jobless worker has a spouse who works. Also, there is social security to help take care of Mom and Dad. None of this was around in the Great Depression.
When a big depression takes over, it hits everywhere. It hasn't taken over Champaign-Urbana and, except for pockets of high unemployment, it hasn't taken over the country.