Works Progress Administration Reports eText - Primary Source

Primary Source

Primary Source: Report on the Progress of the Works Program, 1937: Graph (5 OF 5) The federal government's work relief programs were concentrated on building and maintaining public structures, but tried to provide employment for Americans of every backgro Primary Source: Published by Gale Cengage
Primary Source: Report on the Progress of the Works Program, 1937: Illustration (1 OF 5) SYNOPSIS: A map illustrating the selected accomplishments of WPA projects completed through September 15, 1936. This map originally accompanied Harry Hopkins' 1937 ar Primary Source: Published by Gale Cengage "MAP" OF SELECTED ACCOMPLISHMENTS ON WPA PROJECTS THROUGH SEPTEMBER 15, 1936. FROM "REPORT ON PROGRESS OF THE WORKS PROGRAM," MARCH 1937. GRADUATE LIBRARY, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

Report on the Works Program, 1936

Graph, Table

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.

Introduction

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.

Significance

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
State
(1)
Amount
(2)
Percent
(3)
Amount
(4)
Percent
(5)
Amount
(6)
Percent
(7)
Amount
(8)
Percent
(9)
Amount
(10)
Percent
(11)
Amount
(12)
Percent
(13)
Alabama 51,308,789 100 17,993,876 35.1 9,240,760 18.0 2,223,535 4.3 1,367,142 2.7 3,722,006 7.3
Arizona 14,623,695 100 4,898,907 33.5 3,434,776 23.5 1,772,551 12.1 1,463,428 10.0 143,117 1.0
Arkansas 45,560,829 100 28,739,638 63.1 3,794,961 8.3 2,112,109 4.6 2,665,734 5.9 1,020,096 2.2
California 221,902,939 100 39,850,565 17.9 22,351,759 10.1 19,759,498 8.9 11,702,250 5.3 68,249,461 30.8
Colorado 36,259,051 100 12,337,981 34.0 4,209,946 11.6 1,703,040 4.7 7,817,570 21.6 1,738,465 4.8
Connecticut 47,265,832 100 18,398,625 38.9 3,003,392 6.3 2,899,774 6.1 1,633,265 3.5 7,028,322 14.9
Delaware 3,616,936 100 1,125,928 31.1 233,282 6.4 235,995 6.5 382,725 10.6 534,420 14.8
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
Florida 47,001,191 100 17,920,947 38.1 8,879,916 18.9 2,409,120 5.1 949,200 2.0 3,661,669 7.8
Georgia 59,639,865 100 20,688,173 34.7 10,359,764 17.4 2,515,172 4.2 800,846 1.3 8,242,886 13.8
Idaho 21,048,526 100 7,923,960 37.6 1,194,154 5.7 779,267 3.7 7,714,890 36.7 561,686 2.6
Illinois 300,904,998 100 96,426,177 32.0 26,779,571 9.0 40,678,653 13.5 11,233,866 3.7 62,565,132 20.8
Indiana 128,299,171 100 58,228,511 45.4 12,789,916 9.9 11,867,199 9.2 11,240,846 8.8 9,290,183 7.2
Iowa 62,682,057 100 27,802,587 44.4 5,503,333 8.6 5,882,852 9.4 2,736,032 4.4 5,934,644 9.5
Kansas 80,335,536 100 33,451,687 41.6 5,107,453 6.4 4,916,142 6.1 4,611,121 5.8 21,384,266 29.6
Kentucky 100,325,966 100 60,510,240 60.3 15,796,696 15.7 2,290,311 2.3 1,118,481 1.1 5,976,828 6.0
Louisiana 61,905,063 100 20,923,448 33.8 8,138,206 13.1 18,279,187 29.6 3,031,302 4.9 3,786,847 6.1
Maine 123,902,717 100 35,275,410 28.5 5,551,,827 4.5 15,360,054 12.3 155,259 .1 33,833,041 27.3
Maryland 32,886,260 100 11,698,841 35.6 4,419,028 13.4 2,040,521 6.2 556,074 1.7 6,389,952 19.4
Massachusetts 177,468,037 100 77,684,979 43.8 9,834,649 5.5 8,655,805 4.9 4,666,892 2.6 18,553,972 10.5
Michigan 137,945,019 100 65,065,652 47.2 13,797,122 10.0 7,786,100 5.6 8,049,133 5.8 16,573,852 12.0
Minnesota 103,788,718 100 48,132,323 46.3 11,528,297 11.2 11.187,406 10.8 14,641,930 14.1 3,473,487 3.4
Mississippi 59,834,325 100 24,811,530 41.5 14,071,578 23.5 1,393,605 2.3 3,168,262 5.3 1,496,729 2.5
Missouri 96,590,323 100 37,901,903 39.2 17,090,798 17.7 6,312,818 6.5 7,427,329 7.7 12,450,920 12.9
Montana 26,300,825 100 11,088,850 42.1 4,362,044 16.6 1,662,947 6.3 2,414,182 9.2 1,007,336 3.8
Nebraska 34,927,463 100 16,483,129 47.2 3,229,088 9.2 1,884,013 5.4 1,348,539 3.9 4,922,697 14.1
Nevada 2,931,925 100 752,619 25.7 615,408 21.0 337,154 11.5 102,676 3.5 47,447 1.6
New Hampshire 17,284,970 100 5,265,751 30.6 855,192 4.9 2,476,880 14.3 921,806 5.3 2,231,746 12.9
New Jersey 125,730,178 100 43,461,569 34.6 11,898,757 9.5 21,767,756 17.3 2,915,410 2.3 10,102,738 8.0
New Mexico 20,624,182 100 11,428,441 55.4 3,420,114 16.6 820,061 4.0 1,423,873 6.9 546,385 2.6
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
North Carolina 61,225,628 100 19,316,337 31.6 8,942,283 14.6 2,219,313 3.6 2,704,444 4.4 2,535,121 4.1
North Dakota 21,276,277 100 12,598,924 59.2 1,782,320 8.4 1,768,271 8.3 457,989 2.2 472,340 2.2
Ohio 277,800,266 100 153,731,243 55.3 23,953,089 8.7 18,278,553 6.6 12,864,012 4.6 27,568,702 9.9
Oklahoma 125,508,918 100 44,525,472 35.5 21,238,995 16.9 9,709,877 7.7 14,758,939 11.8 8,917,694 7.1
Oregon 25,344,222 100 12,404,359 49.0 4,156,162 16.4 1,083,520 4.3 2,104,486 8.3 728,802 2.9
Pennsylvania 213.689,202 100 115,237,017 53.9 14,449,779 6.8 9,431,971 4.4 6,519,104 3.1 11,443,313 5.4
Rhode Island 34,309,059 100 15,828,571 46.1 2,255,376 6.6 2,489,493 7.3 723,995 2.1 2,450,208 7.1
South Carolina 28,963,539 100 6,572,662 22.7 5,854,273 20.2 1,194,779 4.1 2,078,019 7.2 736,948 2.5
Grand total Highways, roads and streets Public buildings Parks and playgrounds Flood control and other conservation Public utilities
State
(1)
Amount
(2)
Percent
(3)
Amount
(4)
Percent
(5)
Amount
(6)
Percent
(7)
Amount
(8)
Percent
(9)
Amount
(10)
Percent
(11)
Amount
(12)
Percent
(13)
South Dakota 15,178,174 100 7.478,093 49.3 1,835,431 12.1 532,231 3.5 912,226 6.0 487,119 3.2
Tennessee 49,606,725 100 22,464,669 45.3 6,874,498 13.9 1,168,129 2.4 609,157 1.2 1,092,608 2.2
Texas 166,163,862 100 68,889,382 41.5 15,184,340 9.1 6,688,525 4.0 36,042,995 21.7 7,973,605 4.8
Utah 14,884,257 100 2,671,302 17.9 1,689,877 11.4 561,928 3.8 1,442,446 9.7 3,621,257 24.3
Vermont 9,926,246 100 5,084,763 51.2 1,206,427 12.1 409,360 4.1 55,604 .6 1,297,832 13.1
Virginia 48,157,339 100 14,928,247 31.0 12,314,536 25.5 1,677,108 3.5 734,245 1.5 3,254,809 6.8
Washington
Laborers work on a Works Progress Administration road construction project. © CORBIS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Laborers work on a Works Progress Administration road construction project. © CORBIS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage © CORBIS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.
47,287,272
100 13,325,332 28.2 4,689,205 9.9 4,105,719 8.7 8,482,838 17.9 3,645,518 7.7
West Virginia 110,628,344 100 64,236,847 58.1 22,775,871 20.6 1,538,555 1.4 1,576,876 1.4 4,193,439 3.8
Wisconsin 103,239,310 100 24,714,904 23.9 10,760,762 10.4 21,388,100 20.7 14,359,450 13.9 14,040,140 13.6
Wyoming 5,434,616 100 1,656,681 30.5 486,952 9.0 315,183 5.8 545,497 10.0 627,708 11.6
Nation-wide 142,631,715 100 42,885,959 30.1
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.

Hours Earnings
Type of project Number Percent Amount Percent Average hourly earnings (cents)
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
Grand total1 4,000,329,942 100.0 $1,829,494,192 100.0 45.7
Highways, roads, and streets 1,502,326,962 37.6 612,591,511 33.5 40.8
Highways 24,844,228 0.6 9,868,001 0.5 39.7
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
Roadside improvements 166,680,696 4.2 81,355,747 4.5 48.8
Bridges and viaducts 26,915,223 0.7 12,434,777 0.7 46.2
Grade-crossing elimination 2,180,061 0.1 1,250,833 0.1 57.4
Other2 372,684,761 9.3 147,621,088 8.1 39.6
Public buildings 338,420,837 8.4 190,264,176 10.4 56.2
Administrative 37,542,084 0.9 25,081,045 1.4 66.8
Charitable, medical and mental institutions 34,941,061 0.9 22,165,765 1.2 63.4
Educational 109,605,236 2.7 61,889,738 3.4 56.5
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
Housing 8,326,728 0.2 5,145,494 0.3 61.8
Other2 27,214,899 0.7 17,907,168 1.0 65.8
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
Parks 203,965,405 5.1 97,654,387 5.3 47.9
Other2 157,407,780 3.9 96,227,874 5.3 61.1
Conservation 206,633,710 5.2 87,607,105 4.8 42.4
Forestation 8,413,050 0.2 3,355,226 0.2 39.9
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
Other2 34,173,119 0.9 13,457,452 0.7 39.4
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
Sewer systems 238,080,071 5.9 112,472,116 6.1 47.2
Electric utilities 6,031,005 0.2 3,012,822 0.2 50.0
Other2 13,690,094 0.3 6,038,285 0.3 44.1
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
Navigation 10,377,088 0.3 6,338,443 0.3 61.1
Other2 5,613,916 0.1 2,821,352 0.2 50.3
White collar 373,087,058 9.3 234,868,670 12.9 63.0
Educational 75,069,137 1.9 48,708,005 2.7 64.9
Professional and clerical 298,017,921 7.4 186,160,665 10.2 62.5
Goods 484,456,301 12.1 182,603,140 10.0 37.7
Sewing 418,389,650 10.4 154,257,561 8.4 36.9
Canning 3,789,157 0.1 1,439,695 0.1 38.0
Other2 62,277,494 1.6 26,905,884 1.5 43.2
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
Mosquito eradication 64,026,910 1.6 22.125,573 1.2 34.6
Other2 67,876,033 1.7 27,175,368 1.5 40.0
Miscellaneous 117,704,958 3.0 50,581,042 2.7 43.0
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
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9)
Grand total 3,727,723 2,871,637 433,770 422,316 3,236,621 2,255,898 381,140 599,583
Total distributed by States 3,675,689 2,871,637 429,600 374,452 3,180,596 2,255,898 377,340 547,358
Alabama 61,330 39,977 7,231 14,122 56,613 32,398 7,415 16,800
Arizona 22,542 11,439 5,280 5,823 19,430 9.332 4,038 6,060
Arkansas 53,914 35,277 9,323 9,314 49,074 29,945 8,549 10,580
California 185,153 142,584 13,925 28,644 161,328 110,548 12,540 38,240
Colorado 47,628 39,033 4,392 4,203 37,633 28,328 4,679 4,626
Connecticut 34,861 27,810 4,749 2,302 33,034 22,508 3,966 6.560
Delaware 5,348 3,071 572 1,705 4,801 2,344 671 1,786
District of Columbia 13,586 8,983 2,559 2,044 12,001 7,546 2,150 2,305
Florida 57,494 32,514 8,041 16,939 48,695 27,124 8,079 13,492
Georgia 68.049 44,142 11,367 12,540 54,996 33,881 11,232 9,883
Idaho 18,546 12,634 3,126 2,786 17,954 6,380 2,525 9,049
Illinois 235,334 199,823 22,140 13,371 200,648 155,680 17,882 27,086
Indiana 97,938 84,715 7,586 5,637 87,281 68,287 6,674 12,320
Iowa 40,467 30,760 6,749 2,958 33,388 19,408 5,245 8,735
Kansas 60,314 45,076 6,784 8,454 44,497 30,402 5,599 8,496
Kentucky 82,407 62,134 15,843 4,430 65,884 45,911 10,706 9,267
Louisiana 62,711 50,508 7,205 4,998 47,776 36,510 6,873 4,393
Maine 18,395 9,913 3,179 5,303 17,156 7,971 2,251 6,934
Maryland 28,197 18,375 4,240 5,582 28,085 14,606 3,923 9,556
Massachusetts 141,283 120,372 12,970 7,941 128,343 104,557 12,407 11,379
Michigan 121,859 98,534 15,253 8,072 102,791 75,771 12,229 14,791
Minnesota 76,527 60,689 11,030 4,808 68,419 44,805 9,450 14,164
Mississippi 56,246 37,854 10,215 8,177 48,083 26,651 10,017 11,415
Missouri 112,774 87,727 14,726 10,321 94,058 66,602 13,129 14,327
Montana 29,400 19,861 3,221 6,318 19,792 10,489 2,767 6,536
Nebraska 31,121 21,497 4,637 4,987 27,048 14,512 3,926 8,610
Nevada 5,536 2,525 1,154 1,857 4,568 2,188 856 1,524
New Hampshire 12,854 9,557
Primary Source: Report on the Works Program, 1936: Graph (1 OF 3) SYNOPSIS: Primary Source: Published by Gale Cengage
1,819
1,478 11,977 7,607 1,653 2,717
New Jersey 110,492 92,136 10,709 7,647 98,794 79,811 10,816 8,167
New Mexico 23,615 10,274 5,176 8,165 21,684 7,899 5,193 8,592
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
North Carolina 62,884 40,034 9,839 13,011 50,251 27,984 8,515 13,752
North Dakota 19,045 11,997 5,352 1,696 19,897 8,399 4,524 6,974
Ohio 214,984 186,358 19,245 9,381 184,060 152,850 15,126 16,084
Oklahoma 92,075 69,669 13,474 8,932 80,411 55,596 14,662 10,153
Oregon 29,946 19,972 4,898 5,076 26,480 14,469 3,740 8,271
Pennsylvania 323,355 287,847 26,009 9,499 277,748 235,047 19,998 22,703
Rhode Island 18,870 14,642 2,519 1,709 16,560 10,888 2,359 3,313
South Carolina 51,257 30,439 8,203 12,615 45,737 25,470 7,728 12,539
South Dakota 20,923 14,779 4,179 1,965 19,184 9,400 3,593 6,191
Tennessee 63,246 44,671 10,100 8,475 59,268 36,505 8,800 13,963
Texas 150,410 103,252 22,348 24,810 135,603 79,385 20,477 35,741
Utah 17,038 12,170 3,194 1,674 16,012 10,080 2,499 3,433
Vermont 10,446 6,697 2,131 1,618 9,633 4,400 1,777 3,456
Virginia 57,673 34,581 10,987 12,105 50,987 27,180 9,657 14,150
Washington 64,000 46,114 6,673 11,213 44,389 25,948 5,737 12,704
West Virginia 68,582 56,433 9,118 3,031 55,916 43,457 7,207 5,252
Wisconsin 82,548 63,179 13,113 6,256 74,123 48,862 10,764 14,497
Wyoming 8,554 4,897 1,455 2,202 8,083 2,789 1,452 3,842
Total distributed by Territories 40,010 4,170 35,840 43,067 3,800 39,267
Alaska 677 382 295 521 218 303
Hawaii 4,226 1,744 2,482 3,201 1,261 1,940
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
Emergency Emergency
Conservation Other Conservation Other
State Total W.P.A. Work agencies Total W.P.A. Work agencies
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9)
Panama Canal Zone 480 480 260 260
Puerto Rico 33,635 1,781 31,854 37,955 2,099 35,856
Virgin Islands 992 263 729 1,130 222 908
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.

Security Programs

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.

Work Relief

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.

Special Programs

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.

Current Programs

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.

Further Resources

BOOKS

Gerdes, Louise I., ed. The 1930s. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 2000.

Hill, Edwin G. In the Shadow of the Mountain: The Spirit of the CCC. Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1990.

Kurzman, Paul A. Harry Hopkins and the New Deal. Fair Lawn, N.J.: R.E. Burdick, 1974.

Leuchtenburg, William E. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932–1940. New York: Harper & Row, 1963.

Louchheim, Katie. The Making of the New Deal. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983.