The WPA and Federal Relief Policy

By Donald S. Howard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXII
WPA EMPLOYMENT

SINCE ONE OF THE primary purposes of the WPA has been to provide jobs for unemployed workers, the number actually employed from month to month and year to year is, of course, of utmost importance to those who are interested in judging its usefulness. Considered as a single unit, the total volume of WPA employment, during the first six years of its history, is sufficient to stagger even a wild imagination. By contrast, the estimated number of man-years required to build the pyramids of Egypt-- which have long been symbolic of gigantic undertakings--looks small.1


FLUCTUATIONS IN EMPLOYMENT

Although during the six years 1936 through 1941 the WPA has employed on the average about 2,060,000 persons a month, employment has ranged from an average of 1,136,000 in 1941 to an average of 2,717,000 in 1938.2 The monthly average number employed in the several fiscal and calendar years is shown in Table 21, and the number employed in fiscal years in Diagram 3.

In addition to those employed by the WPA, an average of some 512,000 workers has been employed between January, 1936, and January, 1941, on projects of other federal agencies, while an average of some 776,000 youths were aided each month through the programs of the CCC and NYA. Detailed employment data for these several programs are presented on a monthly basis in Appendix Table 1.

____________________
1
Employment provided by the WPA during the six-year period between January, 1936, when the program was first well under way, and January, 1942, represents an average of approximately 2,060,000 workers per month. This adds up to a total of well over 12,000,000 man-years--more than six times that required to build the pyramids, which are thought to have consumed the labor of 100,000 workers for twenty years. In addition, it is estimated that it took 100,000 men ten years to construct the 3,000-foot causeway to facilitate the transportation of the stone required to build the pyramids. If this labor is added to that used in building the pyramids themselves the total is only about one-fourth the man-years of labor performed by WPA workers during the six years 1936 through 1941. This comparison obviously omits any consideration of hours of work--and rates of pay!
2
WPA employment discussed in this chapter means employment on WPA projects operated by the WPA and does not include employment on projects of other federal agencies even though such projects were financed from WPA funds.

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