The G.I. Bill
Initially, President Franklin D. Roosevelt favored a comprehensive approach to dealing with postwar demobilization, especially in the areas of job retraining and vocational rehabilitation. However, faced with significant opposition in Congress and among veterans’ organizations to such broad‐based plans, he bowed to political realities and supported narrower legislation aimed at veterans. Substantial public pressure developed in 1943 and 1944, led by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Hearst newspaper syndicate, to provide a bonus and other benefits to discharged service men and women. The American Legion, eager to attract World War II veterans to its organization, played a pivotal role in drafting and lobbying for the so‐called G.I. Bill.
The bill's emphasis on aiding able‐bodied veterans established important precedents that stemmed in part from fears of massive unemployment caused by demobilization and the return of millions of ex‐service men and women.
Between 1944 and 1949, nearly 9 million veterans received a total of $4 billion from the G.I. Bill's compensation program. Although unemployment increased after V‐J Day, the provisions of the bill, the unemployment insurance popularly known as the “52‐20 club,” played an instrumental role in ensuring that the United States avoided a postwar depression similar to that after World War I. In addition, over 3.5 million mortgages would be partially guaranteed under the homeowners’ loan provisions of the bill, and this was instrumental in encouraging rapid growth of suburbia after 1945. At the peak, in 1947, slightly over 40 percent of all housing starts in the nation would be funded by the guarantee.
The G.I. Bill's education and training programs reached slightly over half of the nearly 16 million eligible veterans in 1945–56. College enrollments increased by 70 percent over prewar levels. Ex‐service men dominated student bodies at American colleges in the late 1940s; in 1947, close to half the college students had served in the military. G.I. Bill recipients as a group tended to outperform traditional nonveteran students.
Benefits similar to the G.I. Bill would be extended to veterans of the Korean War. Subsequently, the Veterans’ Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966 extended such provisions to all who serve in the armed forces, even in peacetime. The precedents established by the G.I. Bill for federal aid to higher education would expand over the course of the Cold War. Totaling over $14 billion, the bill was crucial to the expansion of the middle class.
[See also Veterans: World War II.]
Davis R. B. Ross , Preparing for Ulysses: Politics and Veterans During World War II, 1969.
Keith W. Olson , The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges, 1974.
Michael J. Bennett , When Dreams Came True: The G.I. Bill and the Making of Modern America, 1996.
G. Kurt Piehler