Report on the Works Program, 1936
By: Works Progress Administration
Date: March 1936
Source: "Value of Projects Approved for W.P.A., by Types and by States, January 15, 1936"; "Works Program Employment by States, Dec. 28, 1935." In Report on the Works Program. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1936.
Report on the Progress of the Works Program, 1937
Report, Illustration, Tables, Graph
By: Works Progress Administration
Date: March 1937
Source: "Security Programs"; "Selected Accomplishments on WPA Projects"; "Average Hourly Earnings of Persons Employed on WPA Projects"; "Employment on WPA Projects, Emergency Conservation Work, and Projects on Other Agencies, By States"; "Hours and Earnings of Persons Employed on W.P.A. Projects, Cumulative through Dec. 31, 1936, by Type of Project." In Report on the Progress of the Works Program. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1937.
Prior to the New Deal, direct relief in the United States combined the work of charitable organizations, often church- or faith-based, and that of local government. It was primarily directed at supporting children, widows, and the infirm. Modest work-relief programs—road repair, for example—were sometimes used during depressed times to provide support for able-bodied workers (who were otherwise left out of the equation).
American poor relief evolved from English practices. It was geared for rural/small-town communities where there tended to be a collective responsibility for the needy and a heavy reliance on families caring for their own. It worked reasonably well in stable, local economies where some form of employment, however modest, was available to community members. In the large and more impersonal urban environments that had been established by the 1930s, it was completely unsatisfactory.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) believed in an activist government that had an obligation to improve the quality of life for its citizens—not sit on the sidelines and observe. Furthermore, as governor of New York, Roosevelt had seen the failure of traditional relief efforts and the need to enlist the power of the federal government to support and even initiate more effective relief programs.
Roosevelt's programs used both work relief and direct relief to attack abject poverty and unemployment. Specific programs designed to provide assistance included the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Civil Works Administration (CWA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Public Works Administration (PWA) and, most significantly, the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Direct and work-relief monies were funneled through the FERA to state and local governments. The other programs were work relief and remained under the direct control of the federal government.
At their peak, these programs provided direct relief to more than 6 million people and employment (work relief) to nearly 4 million workers. Billions were spent to provide direct aid and to fund massive public works programs to put people back to work.
When Roosevelt took office in 1933, morale of the American people was perhaps at the lowest point in history. The emotional turnaround that followed Roosevelt's inauguration was nothing short of miraculous. This turnaround was due in part to the infectious optimism with which FDR led the nation. More tangibly, however, Roosevelt initiated and sustained an enormous federal relief program that convinced the American people that they would not be allowed to starve and that prosperity would eventually return.
Perhaps the most widely recognized New Deal program was the WPA. Created in March 1935, following the passage of a $4.5-billion public works bill, the WPA came
|Grand total||Highways, roads and streets||Public buildings||Parks and playgrounds||Flood control and other conservation||Public utilities|
|District of Columbia||10,261,219||100||996,396||9.7||1,733,901||16.9||2,132,405||20.8||60,372||0.6||888,940||8.7|
|New York City||354,142,254||100||69,964,300||19.8||64,670,220||18.3||91,225,106||25.7||2,785,493||.8||25,938,382||7.3|
|New York (Excl. N.Y.C.)||470,805,028||100||277,221,100||58.9||18,800,909||4.0||19,283,727||4.1||22,842,925||4.9||45,058,886||9.6|
|Grand total||Highways, roads and streets||Public buildings||Parks and playgrounds||Flood control and other conservation||Public utilities|
|SOURCE: Report on the Works Program. Works Progress Administration, March 16, 1936, p. 100.|
to symbolize many of the good and bad things about the New Deal. Harry Hopkins, by this time the leading figure in Roosevelt's administration, was put in charge. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), established in 1933, was brought under Hopkins' umbrella, as was the newly created National Youth Administration. Both programs were aimed at employing those between the ages of 18 and 25. The CCC employed young men in work camps, and the NYA especially targeted women and college students in the effort to provide relief and employment.
The WPA was the largest of the New Deal relief programs. It employed 8.5 million people at a federal government cost of $11 billion. For this, the WPA built or repaired 600,000 miles of roads, 24,000 miles of sidewalks, 1.2 million miles of culverts, over 100,000 schools, libraries, and other public buildings, 7,500 parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields, over 600 airports, 800 municipal swimming pools, 1,200 sewage treatment plants, 23,000 miles of sewer lines, and 75,000 bridges and viaducts.
In addition to the vast construction projects, the WPA funded a remarkable series of cultural programs. They included the Federal Arts Program, the Federal Theatre Project, the Federal Music Project, and the Federal Writers Project. Employing out-of-work painters, sculptors, musicians, writers, actors, and stagehands, they produced plays and public art, wrote state travel guides, performed puppet shows in city parks, gave concerts, and conducted historical research.
Concluding in 1943, when unemployment had been virtually eliminated due to wartime labor needs, the WPA had administered a public works program of unprecedented scale. During its eight-year existence, the WPA was the sole source of income for millions of families, and it significantly improved the infrastructure and quality of life for the entire country.
Primary Source: Report on the Progress of the Works Program, 1937 [excerpt]: Report
SYNOPSIS: "Security Programs" was the introduction to the March 1937 Report on Progress of the Works Program, a report prepared under the auspices of Harry Hopkins, administrator of the Works Progress Administration. It details the accomplishments of the various work-relief programs then in operation and summarizes the history of the various programs before and after 1933. It is a document written to extol the virtues of work relief and in particular the WPA. Nonetheless, it provides valuable commentary and statistical information on the various programs then underway. A few of the graphs and charts found in the 1937 and 1936 reports are included to illustrate the the scope of the WPA's programs.
|Type of project||Number||Percent||Amount||Percent||Average hourly earnings (cents)|
|Highways, roads, and streets||1,502,326,962||37.6||612,591,511||33.5||40.8|
|Farm-to-market and other secondary roads||522,135,973||13.0||183,140,300||10.0||35.1|
|Streets and alleys||335,619,531||8.4||152,428,964||8.3||45.4|
|Sidewalks, curbs, and paths||51,266,489||1.3||24,491,801||1.3||47.8|
|Bridges and viaducts||26,915,223||0.7||12,434,777||0.7||46.2|
|Charitable, medical and mental institutions||34,941,061||0.9||22,165,765||1.2||63.4|
|Social and recreational||52,488,285||1.3||26,070,005||1.4||49.7|
|Federal (including military and naval)||20,569,226||0.5||11,557,801||0.6||56.2|
|Improvement of grounds||47,733,318||1.2||20,447,160||1.1||42.8|
|Parks and other recreational facilities||428,986,856||10.7||225,231,575||12.3||52.5|
|Playgrounds and athletic fields||67,613,671||1.7||31,349,314||1.7||46.4|
|Erosion control and land utilization||14,045,174||0.4||6,422,715||0.4||45.7|
|Irrigation and water conservation||144,444,001||3.6||61,662,603||3.4||42.7|
|Plant, crop and livestock conservation||5,558,366||0.1||2,709,109||0.1||48.7|
|Sewer systems and other utilities||329,477,562||8.2||154,491,266||8.4||46.9|
|Water purification and supply||71,676,392||1.8||32,968,043||1.8||46.0|
|Airports and other transportation||80,736,578||2.0||39,214,801||2.1||48.6|
|Airports and airways||64,745,574||1.6||30,055,006||1.6||46.4|
|Professional and clerical||298,017,921||7.4||186,160,665||10.2||62.5|
|Sanitation and health||136,023,324||3.4||51,186,535||2.8||37.6|
|Elimination of stream pollution||4,120,381||0.1||1,885,594||0.1||45.8|
|1Totals include 2,475,796 hours worked and $854,371 earned (each representing 0.1 percent of their respective totals) on W.P.A. projects in Hawaii, not distributed by types of projects.|
|2Includes projects classifiable under more than 1 of the headings.|
|SOURCE: Report on Progress of the Works Program. Works Progress Administration, March 1937.|
|Number of persons employed during week ending March 28, 1936||Number of persons employed during week ending June 27, 1936|
|State||Total||W.P.A.||Emergency Conservation Work||Other agencies||Total||W.P.A.||Emergency Conservation Work||Other agencies|
|Total distributed by States||3,675,689||2,871,637||429,600||374,452||3,180,596||2,255,898||377,340||547,358|
|District of Columbia||13,586||8,983||2,559||2,044||12,001||7,546||2,150||2,305|
|New York City||254,805||236,723||9,792||8,290||225,929||205,490||9,705||10,734|
|New York (excluding New York City)||149,127||127,389||11,770||9,968||134,494||101,698||11,580||21,216|
|Total distributed by Territories||40,010||–||4,170||35,840||43,067||–||3,800||39,267|
|Employment on W.P.A. Projects, Emergency Conservation Work, and Projects on Other Agencies, By States||[CONTINUED]|
|Quarterly–September 1935 to February 1937|
|Number of persons employed during week||Number of persons employed during week|
|ending March 28, 1936||ending June 27, 1936|
|Panama Canal Zone||480||–||–||480||260||–||–||260|
|Not distributed by States or Territories||12,024||–||–||12,024||12,958||–||–||12,958|
|SOURCE: Report on Progress of the Works Program.||Works Progress Administration, March 1937, p. 104.|
During the last several years the Federal Government has been formulating and putting into operation a program of security for the underprivileged of America, two principal features of which are the Social Security Act and the Works Program. In order to weigh the adequacy of these measures in achieving security, it is necessary to consider them in the light not only of their historical backgrounds and their recent progress, but also in the light of the unemployment problem with which they will have to cope either directly or indirectly.
Under the Social Security Act the Federal Government is providing financial assistance to States having approved plans for aid to such classes of un-employable persons as the destitute aged, the blind, and mothers with dependent children. Through these public-assistance provisions of the act, benefits were being provided, in January 1937, for 1,149,000 aged persons, 29,400 blind persons, and 115,000 families with dependent children. In future years, when the Social Security Act is in full effect, old-age benefits and unemployment compensation will also play an important part in the security system.
Under the Works Program 2,884,000 persons were receiving employment as of February 20, 1937; of these, 2,147,000 were employed by the Works Progress Administration. In addition to the persons benefiting under the Social Security Act and the Works Program, the Resettlement Administration was aiding more than 200,000 rural families by means of grants as well as a large number of additional families through loan agreements, and the States and localities were granting direct relief to over 1,600,000 families and single persons.
Relief Prior to 1933
The present status of the Federal programs to promote security is best understood in the light of antecedent conditions and measures. It is often overlooked in discussions of the relief problem that even prior to 1929 unemployment of varying intensity was an integral part of our economic order and that relief needs had been expanding steadily for decades. Estimates of unemployment by Paul Douglas covering the period from 1897 to 1926 for four major industries show an average of 10 percent unemployed. Even in such relatively prosperous years as 1923 and 1926 there were more than 1,500,000 persons out of work in the United States. Another fact not generally recognized is that in the decades preceding the recent depression relief expenditures rose constantly. Public relief expenditures in 16 major cities increased from $1,500,000 in 1911 to $20,000,000 in 1928.
In some respects the recent depression merely accentuated previous unemployment and relief difficulties, but the increased size of the problem forced a reorganization of the methods used in dealing with these difficulties. Changes were inevitable in any event; the depression merely hastened their development.
Prior to the depression which began in 1929, the poor laws of the various States alone provided legislation for the public care of needy persons.These statutes were designed primarily to care for unemployable persons and the aid given was usually limited to almshouse care, burial, medical care, and small amounts of outdoor relief. Administrative and financial responsibility for the operation of this system was centered in the political subdivisions of the States (the counties, towns, and cities) on the theory that destitution was distinctly a local problem and responsibility. In most urban localities this aid was supplemented by private charity.
Generally speaking, it was considered desirable to make public relief as unattractive as possible on the assumption that adequate relief would encourage idleness. Even before 1929, however, State legislatures were beginning to recognize that certain classes of needy individuals, such as mothers with dependent children, the blind, the aged, and veterans, were entitled to more adequate public assistance. Recognition of this resulted in the passage of special legislation for these classes in a number of States, a development which later was given added impetus through the Social Security Act.
The status of public relief in 1929 may be summarized briefly. All States had poor-relief laws. Veterans' relief legislation had been provided in 44 States and assistance for the blind in 22 States. Assistance to the aged was accorded in only 10 States. All but five States had provisions for aid to dependent children in their own homes, and all but three had laws making possible the care of children in foster homes and institutions. No State had enacted unemployment compensation legislation. With the exception of veterans' relief and care of dependent children by agencies or institutions, local political subdivisions generally were charged with responsibility for administering and financing the various types of aid.
This system soon proved incapable of meeting adequately the shock of a major depression. Shortly after the crisis of 1929 large numbers of the unemployed were forced to apply for relief. In the latter part of 1931 State emergency relief administrations were set up in four States, and many more were created in 1932. During this period States and localities found it increasingly difficult to collect taxes or to borrow money, and private contributions were inadequate to meet the new need.
It was not until 1932, however, that the Federal Government took steps implicitly recognizing the national character of the unemployment relief problem. In that year Federal cotton and wheat were donated to destitute persons through the Red Cross, and the Emergency Relief and Construction Act was passed authorizing the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to lend $300,000,000 to States and localities for emergency relief.
Relief Under the F.E.R.A. and the C.W.A.
The necessity of further and more substantial Federal aid was recognized in May 1933 with the passage of the Federal Emergency Relief Act. This act established the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and made available $500,000,000 for grants to the States. By the fall of 1933 State emergency relief administrations were functioning in every State and were receiving grants from the F.E.R.A. This grant-in-aid relationship for emergency relief continued in active operation through 1935. The program was essentially a local relief program, operated by local officials, but financed largely by Federal and State funds.
From the beginning of the F.E.R.A. program, several major objectives were continually stressed. Outstanding among these was the effort made to provide relief throughout the country in accord with adequate standards. Other major objectives included the encouragement of work programs for employable relief persons—already widely developed by local relief organizations—and a sufficient diversification of the program to insure differentiated care for the special groups of persons whose problems and needs merited such treatment.
One of the principal reasons for the establishment of the F.E.R.A. was the fact that relief funds in many localities were insufficient. The Administration therefore adjusted its grants to States so as to effect a gradual leveling upward of relief allowances in areas where relief was particularly inadequate. Under the F.E.R.A. the average amounts of relief extended per family for the country as a whole increased from $15.15 in May 1933 to a peak of $30.45 in January 1935. These averages obscure the differences between the amounts received by families wholly dependent on relief and by those receiving only supplementary assistance. They also ignore the fact that many families received relief during only part of the month and, therefore, understate the average amounts received by families completely dependent upon relief throughout the entire month. Generally, it may be said that although actual physical suffering was prevented under the F.E.R.A., adequate relief was not achieved.
During the summer of 1933 an average of more than a million persons were receiving aid through work on local work programs. This work relief, however, suffered from a number of defects. The earnings were low, some of the projects were of limited social value, and the projects in general were not sufficiently diversified to provide work in keeping with the past job experiences of the persons employed.
To remedy these defects, to meet the critical unemployment needs of the winter, and to promote recovery through the injection of purchasing power into the economic system in a short period of time, the Federal Government inaugurated the Civil Works Program early in the winter of 1933–34. In contrast with F.E.R.A. operations, this was a Federal program with Federal funds supplemented by State and local sponsoring agencies. The peak of employment under this first Federal mass employment program was reached during the week ending January 18, 1934, at which time 4,260,000 persons were at work. Approximately half of the persons employed were taken from relief rolls. The Civil Works Program had been designed primarily as a winter work-relief measure and its liquidation was practically completed by the early part of April 1934. It contributed valuable experience for the conduct of later work programs.
Although work relief was almost entirely discontinued by State emergency relief administrations during the period of active operation of the C.W.A., a large number of direct relief cases continued to be cared for by these agencies. With the close of C.W.A. activity the emergency work relief program of the F.E.R.A. and the States was begun. The total number of cases receiving emergency relief under the general relief program grew from 4,261,000 in June 1934 to a maximum of 5,276,000 in January 1935. Work relief employees averaged more than 2,000,000 per month from October 1934 through June 1935, with a maximum of 2,446,000 in January 1935.
In addition to the general relief program, the F.E.R.A. developed certain special programs to meet some of the problems peculiar to such special groups as farmers, teachers, transient persons, and youths. The rural rehabilitation program, inaugurated in April 1934, was one such undertaking. Its purpose was to enable farm families on relief, through direction and assistance in the form of tools, equipment, and working capital, to become wholly or largely self-sustaining. This activity was transferred to the Resettlement Administration on June 30, 1935, and has since been carried forward by that organization.
The emergency education program was begun in October 1933 to aid teachers who were both unemployed and destitute, and later included general adult education, literacy classes, vocational education and rehabilitation, parent and worker education, and nursery school work. Employment reached a peak in March 1935 of over 44,000 persons. This program was transferred to the Works Progress Administration under which it has been further developed.
In July 1933 the Transient Division of the F.E.R.A. was established. Forty States had instituted transient programs by January 1934, and the first mid-monthly census taken as of February 15, 1934, revealed that 92,000 transient families and single persons were under care. The number averaged almost 300,000 transient persons during the winter of 1934–35. Under the Works Program provision for transients is included in regular work project activities.
The special needs of young persons were recognized by the establishment of a college student-aid program, begun experimentally in Minnesota in December 1933 and extended throughout the country in February 1934. This program provided part-time employment for college students who otherwise would not have been able to continue their education. During the winter of 1934–35 an average of more than 100,000 students were aided per month. Since June 1935 student aid has been conducted by the N.Y.A., under which it has been expanded to include high-school and graduate college students.
In summary, the F.E.R.A. succeeded in raising relief standards throughout the country, in attaining diversification in programs, and in improving work-relief projects and extending them so that in the aggregate they provided work for a substantial proportion of the employable persons receiving relief.
In his message to Congress on January 4, 1935, President Roosevelt analyzed the relief situation and outlined the roles which he conceived should be played in the future by the States and localities, and the Federal Government. Unemployable persons were held to be a local responsibility, and States and localities were urged to resume their traditional responsibility for this group of relief persons. The President pointed out, however, that "the security legislation which I shall propose to the Congress will, I am confident, be of assistance to local effort in the care of this type of case." Employable persons, on the other hand, were held to be a Federal responsibility since "this group was the victim of a Nation-wide depression caused by conditions which were not local but national."
Congressional approval of the President's proposals was given through the passage of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935 and the Social Security Act. During the latter part of 1935 Federal grants for direct relief were discontinued and the States and localities have since assumed sole responsibility for the care of unemployable persons (with Federal grants under the Social Security Act for certain types of assistance).
The Works Program
In order to achieve the purpose for which the Works Program was established—to provide jobs for 3,500,000 workers—various agencies of the Federal Government joined forces. The Federal units participating in the Works Program include bureaus of regular Government departments and independent establishments engaged in activities which could be expanded through the employment of relief workers, previously established emergency agencies such as the Public Works Administration and Emergency Conservation Work (Civilian Conservation Corps), and newly created agencies designed primarily for Works Program participation—the Resettlement, Rural Electrification, and Works Progress Administrations. The W.P.A. has the dual function of operating non-Federal, locally sponsored, work projects and of effecting the necessary coordination of all agencies participating in the Works Program.
These agencies undertook a wide variety of coordinated projects ranging from many kinds of construction work (which constitutes roughly three-quarters of the projects) to art, education, and research. In addition to the operation of regular projects employing as many as possible of the available workers at their accustomed occupations, Works Program activities include the provision of aid in cases of emergency and disaster. The services of many workers were used during periods of immediate danger from floods in both 1936 and 1937, and also to a large extent in the work of cleaning away debris and repairing damage after the floods had subsided. Similarly, during the serious drought of 1936, the W.P.A., the Resettlement Administration, and other agencies cooperated in providing financial aid, through work relief or other measures, to farmers in the emergency drought areas.
Funds for carrying out the Works Program have been provided under three appropriation acts. The Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, which initiated the Program, made available up to $4,880,000,000; the E. R. A. Act of 1936, $1,425,000,000; and the First Deficiency Appropriation Act of 1937, $789,000,000. Expenditures of Federal funds have been made largely for direct labor costs, with the sponsors of projects paying for varying proportions of the other expenses such as are incurred for materials, supplies, and equipment.
Total Works Program employment on projects of W.P.A., Emergency Conservation Work (C.C.C.), and all other Federal agencies reached a peak of approximately 3,840,000 persons during the latter part of February and early March 1936. About 78 percent of the total, or more than 3,000,000 persons, were employed by the W.P.A., more than 450,000 by E.C.W., and almost 400,000 by other Federal agencies. Throughout most of the period of Works Program operation the W.P.A. has provided between 70 and 80 percent of the total employment. From March through June 1936 the number of persons employed under the Works Program declined gradually, but the advent of the drought reversed the trend in July. By November 1936 the number of workers began to drop again and by February 20, 1937, total employment had fallen to 2,884,000. Of this number 2,147,000 were working on W.P.A. projects.
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