The Great Depression hit Allegheny County hard. The unemployment rate was 31.2% in 1931. Steel mills were operating at 46% average capacity, with a low of 25% in December 1930. The crisis of widespread joblessness was crushing many families and communities. Shantytowns of unemployed people sprang up in the Strip District, on Banksville Road, and in other locations around the city.
In February 1931, Allegheny County business and civic leaders approved a jobs project called The Pittsburgh Plan. The goal was to raise $3 million to hire 20,000 unemployed local residents for public works projects such as paving roads and repairing and improving sidewalks, sewers, potholes and park entrances. Construction and repair work would benefit more than seventy towns and boroughs all over the county, as well as improving the facilities of hospitals, museums, libraries and charitable institutions.
The job relief program was run by the Allegheny County Emergency Association, a private-sector organization staffed by dozens of leaders from local firms. Among those on the Executive Committee were industrialists I. Lamont Hughes (Carnegie Steel Company), Howard Heinz (H.J. Heinz Company) and A.L. Humphrey (Westinghouse Air Brake Company), bankers Arthur E. Braun and William S. Linderman, contractor John F. Casey, merchant Edgar J. Kaufmann, and F.J. Chesterman of Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania. Auditing the enterprise was C.P.A. firm Richter & Co.
The Emergency Association worked with remarkable speed. Business leaders met with Pittsburgh Mayor Charles Kline on January 26th, announced their fund-raising plans on February 3rd, and had hired nearly 200 men by the last week of February. By summer 1931, employment through the program was given to more than 6,700 people, both male and female.
Local businesses voluntarily pledged subscriptions pegged to company payrolls from 1929. Dollar Bank had 30 employees on payroll in 1929. The bank at that time was a very small organization with just one office (Fourth Avenue), and was dwarfed by the county's largest employers, which included Westinghouse with 30,000 employees, Carnegie Steel Company, 22,000; H.J. Heinz Company, 11,000; Kaufmann's, 3,200; Gimbel Brothers and Mesta Machine Company, 2,000 each; and Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, with 1,300 workers at just its Creighton plant. Duquesne Light Company employed 2,500 workers to run its facilities on Brunot Island.
Nevertheless, companies large and small worked together to form a local response to alleviate local needs.
Dollar Bank's initial contribution to the job relief Emergency Fund, made in February 1931, was $350.00, representing one day's payroll from 1929. Subsequent contributions were more substantial and were based on a percentage of operating costs. During the years that the job relief program existed, 1931-1934, Dollar Bank contributed $20,193 to the fund. That's more than $400,000 in today's dollars.
The Allegheny County Emergency Association wound down its work after 1934, having accomplished its stated goals from three years earlier. While the immediate crisis of local unemployment had been addressed, many county residents were still struggling in poverty. Pittsburgh's Community Fund for Charities, established in 1928 as the Welfare Fund of Pittsburgh, partnered with local social service agencies to assist the poor and needy. By 1937, the number of Allegheny County agencies receiving Community Fund contributions to carry out their work had grown to seventy-five.
As with the Pittsburgh Plan's Emergency Fund, campaigns were run and donations solicited from individuals and businesses annually each November. From 1935 through 1940, Dollar Bank gave a total of $32,400 to the Community Fund, or more than $600,000 in current dollars.