Introduction to World War II and Post-War Social Policy

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Introduction to World War II and Post-War Social Policy

Depression-era social policies ended with the entry of the United States into World War II in 1941. Unemployment dropped sharply as able men entered military service. War industry—from the making of uniforms to the building of bombers—provided increased employment opportunities for people on the homefront.

Wartime social policy on the homefront encouraged both work and personal sacrifice to the war effort. Many women, who had been largely left out of New Deal policies, left the home to fill factory and defense jobs. Executive Order 8022 prohibited employers in key industries from discriminating against African Americans when hiring workers. Despite the increased opportunity for employment, women and minorities received less pay than their white male peers. Workers in war and defense industries were barred from striking. In the home, conservation efforts and rationing were part of everyday life.

While social policy made some strides to recognize the rights of women and minorities, one particular group faced increasing discrimination during the war years. Executive Order 9066 ordered the relocation of Japanese immigrants and Japanese American citizens to internment camps. Many Japanese Americans lost their personal property, including homes and businesses. The policy led to widespread discrimination of Japanese Americans even after the war and internment ended, and internees received no apology or compensation for the material losses for decades.

When the war ended, social policy shifted its focus from supplying the war effort to caring for soldiers returning home. The U.S. federal government provided returning soldiers with social and economic benefits. Returning soldiers were offered preference in employment, displacing many of the women and minorities who had worked during the war. To meet a rapidly increasing demand for housing, the government sponsored low-priced suburban housing developments and backed low-interest loans for home-buying veterans. The G.I. Bill provided veterans with funding for college education or vocational training. In his 1949 State of the Union Address, President Harry S. Truman offered his "Fair Deal," a new plan for post-war economic and social policy.

War era policies provided the catalyst for two of the greatest movements in the twentieth century, modern feminist and civil rights movements. Many women who lost their jobs to men returning from war returned to working in the home. However, some corporate jobs—such as secretarial and retail work— became largely staffed by women in the post-war years. This chapter ends with the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, an important victory for women's rights in the workplace.

The battle to end segregation fueled the civil rights movement in the 1950s and early 1960s. Though the Supreme Court of the United States declared segregation of schools unconstitutional in 1954 (see, Brown v. Board of Education) desegregation cases were still heard by the court a decade later. While some of the most famous acts of the civil rights movement occurred during this period, federal social policy did not fully recognize the cause of civil rights until President Lyndon B. Johnson unveiled the Great Society in 1964.

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Introduction to World War II and Post-War Social Policy

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Introduction to World War II and Post-War Social Policy