The American Dole: Unemployment Relief and the Welfare State in the Great Depression

By Jeff Singleton | Go to book overview

end the FERA grant program, the WPA was also a victory for liberals who had fought for public employment since the demobilization of CWA. These included not only Aubrey Williams, who had considered federal public employment a "hallucination of grandeur" when he had first proposed the policy in October 1933, and Hopkins, who had waged a skillful, yearlong battle within the administration, but the congressional defenders of the CWA, social workers who had opposed the demobilization of CWA and the grassroots movement of unemployed relief recipients, most of whom supported work relief rather than public "charity." As Anthony Badger has argued, the 1935 program "was not a conservative contraction of the government's welfare commitment; rather it represented a progressive expansion of that commitment, an expansion long sought by professional social workers. . . . It was also what the unemployed themselves wanted."123 This reality has been obscured by the sharp criticisms of the FERA's decision to dismantle the grant program by these same forces; by the New Deal's own rhetoric, which appeared to be a concession to its conservative critics; and by the chaos that followed the end of the FERA in 1936. 124


NOTES
1.
A note on terminology: The terms public employment and work relief are used interchangeably throughout this chapter to describe the New Deal's various work experiments ( CWA, the FERA's work program and the WPA). There are, however, important distinctions between the two policies that should be noted. Work relief generally referred to the employment of relief recipients at "wages" geared to welfare benefits, as determined by the means test. Thus, workers, despite being employed and generally receiving higher benefits, remained within the existing relief framework. Public employment programs utilized relief labor but paid hourly wages and pulled workers out of the public welfare system. Workers were not subjected to income testing and investigation by social workers. By these standards, the CWA was a public employment program, the FERA's 1934 work program was not and the WPA was a hybrid, paying standard monthly "security wage" but requiring an initial income test. Bonnie Fox Schwartz has argued that by these measures--and the predominance of efficiency experts rather than welfare officials in the civil works bureaucracy--the CWA was the only true public employment program of the New Deal. In my view, CWA was the closest to public employment but never entirely broke the connection with relief. Both the second FERA's work program and especially the WPA paid significantly higher wages than traditional work relief and involved a less rigid application of the means test. Thus, I argue that all these programs were much closer to public employment than work relief prior to CWA. Bonnie Fox Schwartz , The Civil Works Administration: The Business of Emergency Employment in the New Deal ( Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984).
2.
Harry Hopkins, Spending to Save ( New York: W.W. Norton, 1936), 124.
3.
Kenneth Davis, Franklin D. Roosevelt: The New Deal Years, 1933-1937 ( New

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The American Dole: Unemployment Relief and the Welfare State in the Great Depression
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in American History ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Chapter 1 - Unemployment Relief and the Welfare State 1
  • Notes 18
  • Chapter 2 - The "Rising Tide of Relief" 27
  • Notes 48
  • Chapter 3 - The Myth of Voluntarism 57
  • Notes 82
  • Chapter 4 - The National Dole 93
  • Notes 120
  • Chapter 5 - Work Relief 131
  • Notes 160
  • Chapter 6 - Ending the Dole as We Knew It 173
  • Notes 199
  • Conclusion 209
  • Notes 217
  • Appendix - Relief Estimates and the Children's Bureau Series 221
  • Notes 224
  • Bibliography 227
  • Index 239
  • About the Author 245
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