The WPA and Federal Relief Policy

By Donald S. Howard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVIII
ELIGIBILITY: EMPLOYABILITY

AMONG THE PRIME requisites for getting a WPA job is that an applicant must be employable and unemployed. That these two factors might some day be the only considerations taken into account in selecting workers for employment on federal jobs has long been the fond hope of many WPA officials.1 Noteworthy among these has been Harry Hopkins, who in 1938 declared:

I think the time is coming, though I don't think it is coming right away, when the Government Work Program for the unemployed is going to be on a basis of the ability of the worker to do a day's work. I think the relief test is on the way out, though its exit may be gradual and cover a period of years. I think unemployment has to be treated as a problem of unemployment per se. It may be that as a matter of national policy we shall want to give work to all the unemployed.2

Though the question as to whether or not a given worker is unemployed might appear to be a relatively simple one, it is bound up, in practice, with a wide variety of considerations such as his usual occupation, the availability of work, rates of pay offered for available jobs, and the existence of a labor dispute in connection with some possible opening. The effect of these factors upon eligibility for WPA employment is discussed in the succeeding chapter. Here, attention is limited to the hardly less complicated question of employability.

Employability is neither easily defined nor easily measured.3

____________________
1
This hope is shared by a number of national leaders and important organizations, as suggested in chap. 14.
2
Hopkins Harry L., Our Job. New York (City) WPA, No. 2 in a series of talks to New York City WPA executives as part of the Executive Training Program, November 16, 1938, p. 7.
3
Practical implications of these difficulties were clearly revealed when Mr. Hopkins, in April, 1936, was pressed by a member of a House Committee to estimate the number of employable persons left on relief rolls. To this he replied that the number was a "matter of opinion and not a matter of statistical data. One person might say that 100 people are employable and eligible, while another person of equal ability might say that only 50 are employable. Therefore, it is not a matter of statistical fact. Two people will disagree as to whether a man is employable or not."-- U. S. House Committee on Appropriations (Hearing), First Deficiency Appropriation Bill for 1936. 74th Congress, 2d Session. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1936, p. 182.

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