Social Solutions to Poverty:
America's Struggle to Build a Just Society
A book by Scott Myers-Lipton


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 Public Work: Works Progress Administration (WPA)  



 "...On one level, Roosevelt's policies transformed U.S. policy on poverty. The federal government, which historically had not involved itself in relief efforts and public works projects because of a restricted view of liberty, now became instrumental in these efforts.

During the first part of the New Deal, which took place from 1933 to 1935, the largest federal public works program in U.S. history was implemented. The Civil Works Administration (CWA)—which in many ways was Coxey's vision put into practice—provided meaningful work at real wages for more than 4.2 million people in 1934. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) put another 400,000 youth to work.

In addition, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) was
implemented to provide matching grants to the states to support relief efforts,
ranging from $4.95 per person per month in Oklahoma to $45.12 in New York.

By February 1934, more than eight million households, or 28 million people (22 percent of the population), were either working in the CWA and CCC, or receiving relief through FERA. The Roosevelt administration hoped that a large-scale public works program, in combination with a relief program, would put money in people's pockets and help stimulate the economy.

In New York alone, 240,000 CWA workers received $41 million to spend. Although there was a drop in un- employment from a high of 25 percent in 1933 to 20 percent by 1935, there were not enough public works jobs offered to meet the need, and relief was sparse in many parts of the country, so the depression continued on.

The second part of the New Deal, which began in the summer of 1935,
included the passage of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Economic
Security Act, Wagner Act, and Fair Labor Standards Act.

The WPA took over where the CWA had left off. Roosevelt had closed down the CWA after four months and the passing of winter, since he was worried that people were becoming too dependent on the federal government to provide jobs.

However, with the nation still in a depression in 1935, Roosevelt resurrected the idea of massive public works. His new strategy was that the federal government would hire people who were unemployed, and return the responsibility of relief for the "unemployable" back to states and local governments.

Within one year of its creation, the WPA had employed three million people, and by the end of the program in 1943, the WPA had employed a total of eight million.

Its accomplishments were many: the WPA built or improved 5,900 schools, 2,500 hospitals, and 13,000 playgrounds. The WPA also hired artists for the Federal Art Project, Theater Project, Writing Project, and Music Project, all of which brought quality artistic expression to the general public. In fact, many poor and working-class people attended live concerts for the first time because of the WPA's 110 concert orchestras, 48 symphony orchestras, and 80 bands.

The CCC continued into the second part of the New Deal, providing about
500,000 jobs per year to young men. Before Congress defunded the CCC in
1942, it provided a total of three million jobs to the economy and achieved many
feats; for example, it planted three billion trees, built 97,000 miles of fire roads,
arrested twenty million acres from soil erosion, built 800 state parks, stocked 1
billion fish, and provided more than 7 million person-days worth of work on
improving streams, conserving water, and protecting wildlife habitats."

Myers-Lipton, p. 206 - 207

 (Excerpted from “Social Solutions to Poverty” © Paradigm Publishers 2006)

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