Work Projects Administration

Work Projects Administration
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Works Progress Administration

WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION

WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION. When he assumed the presidency, Franklin Roosevelt defied the insistence by his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, on maintaining the traditional taboo against the "dole." Instead, he created the Federal Emergency Relief Agency (FERA) with authority to make direct cash payments to those with no other means of support. However, both Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins, the former social worker he chose to head FERA, preferred work relief that would provide recipients the self-esteem of earning their keep and taxpayers the satisfaction of knowing they were getting something for their money. In that spirit the Civil Works Administration (CWA) replaced FERA in the winter of 1933 and soon employed over 2 million persons on roads, buildings, and parks. Despite the program's success, Roosevelt worried that the CWA's policy of paying wages equivalent to those in the private sector would make it too expensive to rescue many of the millions of unemployed. He turned then to Congress for something that would offer subsistence wages and thus a motivation to find permanent employment.

On 8 April 1935, the Emergency Relief Appropriations Act granted the president's request for $4.8 billion to fund the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the largest relief program in American history. Projects were supposed to have a nonpolitical social value and not compete with private enterprise. However, politics was a factor because state and local jurisdictions controlled the choice of almost all projects except those for the arts. Subsequent legislation heightened concerns by requiring Senate approval for any WPA official earning more than $5,000 a year. Yet, even with the patronage appointments this system facilitated and some misuse of funds, the WPA managed to do useful work with low overhead.

The main thrust of the WPA projects had to be directed toward semiskilled and unskilled citizens, whom the Great Depression had hit the hardest. There followed a major effort in the construction of public facilities that left a permanent WPA stamp on the landscape. By 1941, the agency had invested $11.3 billion in 8 million relief workers who built such diverse projects as 1,634 schools, 105 airports, 3,000 tennis courts, 3,300 storage dams, 103 golf courses, and 5,800 mobile libraries.

Unlike the traditional relief program focus on manual labor, the WPA sought to fit tasks to recipients' job experience on a broadly inclusive scale. A Women's Division offered suitable tasks and equal pay and, when it combined with the Professional Division, gave women influence beyond their 12 to 19 percent enrollment. The WPA also inspired the black Urban League to declare that discrimination had been kept to a minimum. The 350,000 blacks employed annually constituted 15 percent of all persons in the program, a percentage half again as great as the number of blacks in society, though less than their proportion of the unemployed. The WPA Education Program raised many thousands of black recipients to literacy and trained thousands more to be skilled craftsmen and teachers.

Following Hopkins's dictum that artists have to eat like everyone else, the WPA offered a place where artists could make use of their gifts. The Federal Theatre Project, headed by an adventuresome Vassar professor named Hallie Flanagan, entertained 30 million people with performances ranging from traditional classics to "Living Newspaper" depictions of current issues and vaudeville shows traveling in caravans to the hinterland. Painters decorated public buildings with murals; and the Federal Writers Project informed Americans about their country by producing city, state, and regional guides. The arts projects also pioneered integration. WPA orchestras performed works by black composers; the Theatre Project mounted operas and plays with all-black casts, and the Writers Project gave aspiring black writers like Richard Wright and Sterling Brown the chance to develop.

The WPA generated opposition as well. Cynics derided the program as a boondoggle for loafers. Other critics feared that the huge WPA workforce would become a pressure group able to control policies and elections. Their fears were inflamed when Hopkins insisted that the WPA should be enlarged and made permanent, given that the program never enrolled more than 3.2 million of the 8 to 15 million unemployed.

World War II ended the argument over the WPA. On 30 June 1943, with wartime production absorbing most of the unemployed, Roosevelt gave WPA its "honorable discharge," and three months later the agency mailed its last checks. Never since has there been a significant federal job creation program. Instead, the government has sought to resolve unemployment through fostering opportunity in the private sector for specific hard-core groups. The passage of the Employment Act of 1946, which had been proposed as a way of ensuring a decent living for all, emerged with power only to encourage that goal. Policymakers have further hedged their commitment by accepting the view that an unemployment rate of 4 to 6 percent is a hedge against the inflation that would result if labor were a scarce, expensive commodity.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brock, William R. Welfare, Democracy, and the New Deal. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Harris, Jonathan. Federal Art and National Culture: The Politics of Identity in New Deal America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Hopkins, June. Harry Hopkins: Sudden Hero, Brash Reformer. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

AlanLawson

See alsoNew Deal .

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Work Projects Administration

Work Projects Administration (WPA), former U.S. government agency, established in 1935 by executive order of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the Works Progress Administration; it was renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939, when it was made part of the Federal Works Agency. Created when unemployment was widespread, the WPA—headed by Harry L. Hopkins until 1938—was designed to increase the purchasing power of persons on relief by employing them on useful projects. WPA's building program included the construction of 116,000 buildings, 78,000 bridges, and 651,000 mi (1,047,000 km) of road and the improvement of 800 airports. Also a part of WPA's diversified activities were the Federal Art Project, the Federal Writers' Project, and the Federal Theatre Project. Close to 10,000 drawings, paintings, and sculptured works were produced through WPA, and many public buildings (especially post offices) were decorated with murals. The experiments in theatrical productions were highly praised and introduced many fresh ideas. Musical performances under the project averaged 4,000 a month. The most notable product of writers in WPA was a valuable series of state and regional guidebooks. WPA also conducted an education program and supervised the activities of the National Youth Administration. At its peak WPA had about 3.5 million persons on its payrolls. Altogether WPA employed a total of 8.5 million persons, and total federal appropriations for the program amounted to almost $11 billion. There was sharp criticism of the WPA in a Senate committee report in 1939; the same year the WPA appropriation was cut, several projects were abolished, and others were curtailed. A strike of thousands of WPA workers to prevent a cut in wages on building projects was unsuccessful. Steadily increasing employment in the private sector, much speeded just before and during World War II, caused further drastic cuts in WPA appropriations and payrolls. In June, 1943, the agency officially went out of existence.

See D. S. Howard, WPA and Federal Relief Policy (1943).

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Works Progress Administration

WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION


The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was the first major unemployment program of the New Deal and one of the most successful of the public works programs authorized by the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act in April 1935. The program, under the leadership of Harry Hopkins (18901946), provided about 3 million public sector jobs per year to unemployed heads of families. Most WPA workers built libraries, schools, hospitals, playgrounds, airports, bridges, and roads, but the program also employed writers, actors, musicians, and visual artists at jobs in their fields. The concept that the federal government, and not private industry, should create jobs was a sharp departure from conventional policy, and aroused significant controversy. Many objected that the WPA was a handout, joking that its initials really meant "We Putter Around." Some charged that WPA writers and artists were Communist sympathizers who did not deserve a government paycheck. Despite such criticisms, the WPA was a well-managed program that funneled almost 85 percent of its total budget into wages and salaries. From 1935 to its end in 1943, the WPA employed more than 8.5 million people and instituted almost 1.5 million projects, including sewer and road construction, murals in public buildings, written guides to each state, and the Historical Records Survey. Equally important, the program improved morale for millions of jobless Americans.

See also: Harry Hopkins, New Deal

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Works Progress Administration

Works Progress Administration (WPA) National project in the USA created by Congress in 1935 under Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal to stimulate national economic recovery. Billions of dollars were contributed to the scheme in which work programmes provided jobs for the unemployed. About two million people were registered on WPA rolls at any one time between 1935 and 1941.

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Works Progress Administration

Works Progress Administration: see Work Projects Administration.

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