The Works Progress Administration

About this essay

The American government, and therefore its taxpaying citizens, get nothing out of the welfare system. When government financial support came into existence during the 1930’s, this was not the case. Roosevelt, in an attempt to curb the effects of the depression, created the New Deal. The New Deal was a series of economic programs enacted in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They involved presidential executive orders or laws passed by Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were in response to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call the “3 R’s”: Relief, Recovery, and Reform.

That is, Relief for the unemployed and poor; recovery of the economy to normal levels; and reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression.

Of all of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) is the most famous, because it affected so many people’s lives. Roosevelt’s vision of a work-relief program employed more than 8.

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5 million people. For an average salary of $41.57 a month, WPA employees built bridges, roads, public buildings, public parks and airports.

Under the direction of Harry Hopkins, an enthusiastic ex-social worker who had come from modest means, the WPA would spend more than $11 million in employment relief before it was canceled in 1943. The work relief program was more expensive than direct relief payments, but worth the added cost, Hopkins believed. “Give a man a dole,”(a dole is modern day equivalent to the word “handout”) he observed, “and you save his body and destroy his spirit.

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Give him a job and you save both body and spirit”.

The WPA employed far many more men than women, with only 13.5% of WPA employees being women in the peak year of 1938. Although the decision had been made early on to pay women the same wages as men, in practice they were consigned to the lower-paying activities of sewing, bookbinding, caring for the elderly, school lunch programs, nursery school, and recreational work. Ellen Woodward, director of the women’s programs at the WPA, successfully pushed for women’s inclusion in the Professional Projects Division. In this division, professional women were treated more equally to men, especially in the federal art, music, theater, and writers’ projects.

When federal support of artists was questioned, Hopkins answered, “Hell! They’ve got to eat just like other people.” The WPA supported tens of thousands of artists, by funding creation of 2,566 murals and 17,744 pieces of sculpture that decorate public buildings nationwide. The federal art, theater, music, and writing programs, while not changing American culture as much as their adherents had hoped, did bring more art to more Americans than ever before or since. The WPA program in the arts led to the creation of the National Foundation for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The WPA paid low wages and it was not able to employ everyone — some five million were left to seek assistance from state relief programs, which provided families with $10 per week. However, it went a long way toward bolstering the self-esteem of workers. This sort of government aid not only helped the people, but it also helped repair crumbling infrastructure and create new facilities, highways, and projects that bettered the livelihood of the American people.

By March, 1936, the WPA rolls had reached a total of more than 3,400,000 persons; after initial cuts in June 1939, it averaged 2,300,000 monthly; and by June 30, 1943, when it was officially terminated, the WPA had employed more than 8,500,000 different persons on 1,410,000 individual projects, and had spent about $11 billion. During its 8 year history, the WPA built 651,087 miles of highways, roads, and streets; and constructed, repaired, or improved 124,031 bridges, 125,110 public buildings, 8,192 parks, and 853 airport landing fields.

Conveniently in our modern era, America meets the two requirements that would suit a reinstatement of a program like the WPA perfectly; a large percentage of the population that is in need of aid and a widespread crumbling of transportation infrastructure. The current welfare system is to pay out sustenance money to people who can’t or refuse to make it themselves. The people live off the monthly payments, which provides little motivation to go out and find work, only to be paid slightly more than welfare is giving you for nothing. The government gets very little for their money. If a new WPA program were to be set up, it would allow those wh are healthy enough to work, a job, to earn their living.

This program would work for many reasons. Our transportation infrastructure is crumbling, and the Department of Transportation estimates that it may take 1 trillion dollars to fully repair it. This government funded work force could easily learn to pave roads and pour cement; some of them may even know the trade already. Although this system would cost more than simply paying out welfare, the government would save money due to the fact that they would no longer need to hire professional contractors to perform tasks that anybody can learn in two hours. Meanwhile, this new giant work force would be repairing a large portion of the infrastructure. This is not just a short term solution. Due to the person being required to labor for their money, it would motivate people to be actively searching for a better, easier job. This motivation would stimulate the workforce, which would lead to harder workers and better innovators.

If this work program does work, as it did back in the great depression, the work force will eventually find work and create jobs. Our infrastructure would be modern and well maintained, which would create a path that would allow economic growth. In theory, if this program does work, the partakers of this program would grow increasingly smaller as the economy improves. The WPA helped the United States get out of the great depression, and it would help the United States get out of our current recession, and back on the path of success.

Cite this page

The Works Progress Administration. (2017, Feb 16). Retrieved from

The Works Progress Administration
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