originally I argued that in many ways people were not so different (by that I more or less meant "morally better") than they are today. I have put quite a bit of thought into this, and using exaples I intend to show that there was some serious human corruption and evil in the early part of the century I alluded to. Since I mentioned both the Great Depression and Prohibition, I'll focus more or less on the period from 1917 to 1941.
First off, I'll admit that some things were clearly better. Many more people could leave their homes unlocked, for example, and certain sorts of crime were less common. I suspect that far fewer children were born out of wedlock.
On the other hand, if a woman was raped, she would probably not report it. Being raped could destroy a woman's reputation, and in "his word against hers" situations the woman would probably be condemed as a spurned and vindictive liar, or someone who "asked for it."
If a man beat his wife, well, her options were often very limited. Society did not generally support women leaving their husbands, and if she did she might well be judged an unfit mother. Divorce was more common by the 1920s than it had been previously, but there was still great social disapproval toward anyone who chose to end their marriage, even if it was a horrible one. If I was well versed in the history of marriage or the history of the family, I suspect that I could describe much worse.
If you were not white, there was tremendous predjudice. The Ku Klux Klan was huge in the 1920s, and 40,000 of them marched on Washington. Klan membership was not just a southern or rural oddity, but the group had a very large membership in midwestern and even eastern cities. Southern California also had a strong Klan presence.
Lynching was common, and at certain points an average of two blacks or more were hanged every week. Those of Native American, Mexican, Asian and other non European ancestry also suffered under exclusionary laws. Some could not become citizens, some could not own land, most could not legally marry whites. Most could live in highly segregated areas. Violence and predjudice against non-whites was very common. Most non-Whites could never hope to attend a university, since many would not admit them. Higher education was also far beyond the means of most Whites, but non-Whites had far more limited opportunities.
Even some Whites suffered predjudice. If you were Catholic you were still subject to considerable discrimination, and if you were Jewish it was even worse. To a lesser degree predjudice by one protestant group toward another was one of the other ugly aspects of the period.
Hate in various other very strong forms were not uncommon, and the radio priest Father Coughlin who railed against Jews and others had a huge following during the 1930s. There was also substantial membership in (forgive my lack of details here) one or more groups modeled on European fascist parties. Henry Ford, a rabid anti-semite, championed the Protocals of the Elders of Zion, a forged publication purporting to describe a massive Jewish conspiracy. Other national leaders admired Hitler (at least prior to December of 1941), and spoke highly of his regime.
I could elaborate on the impact of Prohibition, such as the fact that it caused a huge illegal trade and led to the consolidation of organized crime under the Italians (with some Jewish allies). The mobs became incredibly powerful and violent, and there were many terrible reprecusions. Corruption, an increased lack of respect for the law, drive-by shootings, and a host of other problems also sprang from the illegal alcohol trade.
Topic change -- As for recent apparent drops in crime rates, I can only speculate. Demographics plays a big part (aging population) I suspect. Concealed carry laws. Three strikes and other mandatory imprisonment laws. Better security systems. Less reporting of the crimes that actually happen. Possible better economic times (though I have yet to see supporting data and have seen the Great Depression counter example). Pick some combination of these, or others that I left out. I have no strong opinion here, except for the demographics one.
Allan M: If you think that cities are sewer pits now, you should read up on what they were like during the last few decades of the nineteenth century.