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January 29, 2023

Firms Were Absolutely Savage Toward Staff During the Great Depression

Sid Kess was into accounting before it was cool. At least that’s what we can glean from his article in The CPA Journal the other day. In it, the Journal editorial board member explains his first exposure to accounting was observing his accountant dad, who’d lost his bank controller job in the winter of 1931 when his employer failed (thanks, Great Depression!).

He writes:

In those days, the world of accounting was very different. During the tax season, firms often functioned as sweatshops that would exploit employees during the busy season, getting people to work 75-hour workweeks with the promise that they would get significant bonuses for this overtime once the busy season ended. Once the tax season was over, employers then used all kinds of formulas to give unfair amounts to employees who had worked so hard when the firms were busy. When employees realized that they would not receive the compensation promised, they often became enraged and would start to look for new jobs. But during the off-season, there was little work available, and so people were left unemployed, often for months on end. When the busy season approached the next November, firms would start hiring again. Employers would look at resumes and question why employees had left their positions, implying that they were to blame. Nobody acknowledged the exploitation that was taking place.

Glad to see we’ve made such progress in 70 short years.

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