The New Deal

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Although the New Deal extended help to many Americans, all did not benefit equally from the era's reforms. Who remained outside the reach of New Deal assistance? Why? In your answer, consider how politics shaped the limits of reform, both in constituents' ability to demand assistance and in the federal government’s response to their demands.

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The New Deal , often hailed as a wonderful economic and social program, was certainly a racialized and gendered deal in which Franklin D. Roosevelt created institutions and programs to recover the American economy from the effects of the Great Depression. These programs mostly benefitted working class white men who...

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The New Deal, often hailed as a wonderful economic and social program, was certainly a racialized and gendered deal in which Franklin D. Roosevelt created institutions and programs to recover the American economy from the effects of the Great Depression. These programs mostly benefitted working class white men who were able to gain greater access to jobs and social services.

The New Deal was immediately inaccessible to many groups of people, as being legally allowed to vote was often a requirement in order to apply for and receive aid. White men received aid and gained access to jobs via federal work programs more than any other group of people. Black men only comprised 15% of those employed in the WPA, while women made up only 13.5% of workers in the Works Progress Administration.

Additionally, an overwhelming amount of employers continued to refuse to hire people of color/white women, and the federal programs did not require employers to be non-discriminatory in their hiring processes/decisions. Racism and sexism continued to be the accepted status quo, and the beneficiaries of the New Deal reflected this reality. The federal government made no moves to legalize voting for black people or to create programs that would ensure access by people of color/white women.

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A product of its time, the New Deal was perfectly able to address the needs of white men at the time—those who had always benefited from the law and had only recently seen a dramatic decrease in their wealth and prosperity due to the economic downturn of the Depression. The first thing it did was to create many job opportunities that had incentives that could be appreciated by former landowning white men; they would receive a plot of land and could move out away from the cities if they took these opportunities. Minorities and other groups were unable to make moves because, even in the relative economic squalor of the Depression, they were even further disadvantaged.

Additionally, the ability to apply and be eligible for aid under the New Deal was restricted in ways that benefited white men. People who were unable to vote, in most cases, were also unable to apply for aid, and the legislation was written in terms that were more favorable to men (and in particular Caucasian men). In the end, while it was a definitive step in the right direction, the New Deal certainly left many people in just as bad a position as before.

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African Americans and women did not benefit as much from New Deal programs as white men did. While African Americans largely felt "heard" by Franklin Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, to a greater extent than they had felt heard by earlier administrations, the New Deal could not do away with job discrimination and segregation at local agencies that instituted New Deal policies. There was a prevailing ideology that white men should be hired before African Americans and that while African Americans should receive relief (or money), jobs should be provided first to white men. However, African Americans did benefit from some New Deal programs; for example, they eventually made up 11% of the workers in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and 15% of the workers in the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Many African Americans were restricted from voting, particularly in the South, and the government's limited response to their plight reflected this reality.

At the time of the New Deal, women were largely regarded as housewives and mothers. Although Eleanor Roosevelt devoted a great deal of time to helping women, women were not given as many jobs as men were through New Deal agencies. For example, women only made up about 13.5% of workers in the WPA. During the Great Depression, women were thought of as mainly homemakers, and their salaries were not seen as being as critical to supporting families as those of men. New Deal policies reflected these ideas about women.

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The main groups that “remained outside the reach of New Deal assistance” were racial minority groups, particularly African Americans and Mexican Americans.  We should be clear that these groups were not completely outside the reach of any assistance.  However, they did benefit substantially less from the New Deal programs than did white Americans.  For example, the Agricultural Adjustment Act hurt many minorities.  They worked as farm workers, but did not actually own farms.  When the AAA paid farmers to cut back production, the farm workers lost their jobs.  As another example, many Mexican Americans were migrants and therefore did not have the fixed addresses needed to receive help.

Reform was clearly limited by the ability of minority groups to demand aid.  This was, of course, a time when the right of racial minorities to vote was severely curtailed, particularly in the South.  Because they did not vote, these groups were essentially invisible to politicians.  Therefore, they were very limited in their ability to effectively demand assistance.

Furthermore, politics made it difficult for the administration to give aid to minorities even if administration officials wanted to do so.  The politics of the time were such that President Roosevelt had to depend heavily on Democratic members of Congress from the South for support.  These members of Congress were typically the ones who were most firmly opposed to measures that would help racial minorities.  Therefore, the Roosevelt administration could not push for measures that would deliver large amounts of aid to racial minorities.

It is for these reasons that racial minorities largely remained outside the reach of New Deal assistance.   

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