The WPA and Federal Relief Policy

By Donald S. Howard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
THE WPA: WHAT IT IS AND HOW IT WORKS

THE WORK PROJECTS Administration (originally known as the Works Progress Administration, created in 1935 by executive order of President Roosevelt) has, since its establishment, been the administrative agency responsible for providing employment on socially useful projects for as many needy unemployed workers meeting prescribed eligibility requirements as can be given jobs with funds appropriated by Congress for this purpose from year to year. As such it has been one of the most highly praised and bitterly denounced agencies in the country. This wide variety of opinion regarding the WPA is attributable in part to differences in attitudes toward the way it has carried out the program it has had to administer and in part to sharp cleavages of thought about the nature of the program itself.

Just how varied opinion about the WPA has been was well illustrated by a poll made by the Institute of Public Opinion in 1939 when men and women in all walks of life, in every state in the nation, were asked to name "the greatest accomplishment" and the "worst thing" the Roosevelt administration had done. The federal experiment with relief was named as "the greatest accomplishment" by more people than was any other measure and was also cited as the "worst thing the Roosevelt administration has done" more frequently than any other aspect of the administration's program.1

Whether one thinks well or ill of the WPA or its program, there can be little question about its being a vast and complex organization and its program one of innumerable ramifications. So far-reaching have these been that it was no exaggeration to say, as did a high official, that in 1938 the WPA was:

. . . more than 3,000,000 workers earning . . . wages and their 10,000,000 dependents, it is another 3,000,000 workers who have been on WPA rolls, but have gone to other work. It is also 125,000 engineers, social work

____________________
1
As quoted in the New York Times, June 4, 1939.

-105-

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