What was the WPA program?  

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The WPA, first called the Works Progress Administration and later changed to the Works Projects Administration, was a federal program created in 1935 to help solve the extreme unemployment caused by the Great Depression.  I have read varying statistics, but the unemployment rate was at least 25%, which is an extraordinary number, causing homelessness, hunger, and true tragedy for many Americans. This program used federal funds to put people to work on numerous projects, to employ people in a way that would engage them in meaningful work that would be good for America. All told, over 8 million people, men, women, and youth were successfully employed this way.  It was dissolved in 1943, when there was virtually no unemployment, because of the success of the program and because so many people had been called to serve in World War II that there was actually a shortage of workers.

Much of the infrastructure of this country was either created or rehabilitated by the workers of the WPA.  Bridges, roads, and parks were built or improved during this period, and there are places today where you can still find plaques that give credit to the workers from the program.  Public buildings such as courthouses and libraries were built through the WPA, too. 

The program also employed people in creative endeavors, artists, writers, musicians, and photographers, for example, in a subsidiary program called Federal Project Number One. People collected music and recorded it, music that would otherwise be lost to us today.  Many courthouses and other buildings have wonderful murals that were painted by WPA-paid artists.  And the collection of photography that we now have as the result of the WPA is unbelievably rich, a documentation of America, rich and poor, urban and rural, people from all walks of life. Writers researched local and regional history and wrote state guides for every state. All of these treasures we can thank the WPA for.

The WPA was part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal for America, and it is one of the most successful federal endeavors ever embarked upon. It provided work, it provided dignity, and it created great and lasting public works and art. Had we had a program like this during the latest recession, it would have solved the country's problems more quickly and meaningfully.

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