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

By Jeff Singleton | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Work Relief

The CWA began the odyssey that led the New Deal to withdraw from the "business of relief," replacing the federal grant program with public employment (the WPA). 1 It was, as Hopkins later described it, a "precocious child in a family of slower-growing but more substantial children." 2 Historians have tended to explain the New Deal's turn toward work relief as a product of the values of Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins. The CWA, according to one of the president's biographers, was "rooted in a profound aversion to direct 'handout' relief ('the dole') to men and women able and willing to work, an aversion Harry Hopkins shared with Franklin D. Roosevelt." Hopkins' biographer, George McJimsey, explains the origins of the WPA by noting that Roosevelt and Hopkins "believed that relief given in the traditional way ultimately degraded and pauperized the recipient. They wanted to get the federal government out of giving relief and into providing jobs for the unemployed." 3

While there can be little doubt that the New Deal's approach to relief was, from the outset, profoundly influenced by these attitudes, they do not entirely explain the trajectory of policy from 1933 through 1935. Why would the administration embark on an ambitious public employment experiment in the fall of 1933 (CWA), abruptly terminate it a few months later, when it barely had reached its quota, return to an expanded "dole" in the spring of 1934 and then jettison the FERA grant program entirely in favor of a federal work relief policy (the WPA) the next year? The New Deal was legendary for its abrupt and bewildering shifts in relief policy. Yet all these policies--including that of the early FERA described in the previous chapter--were justified in term of replacing "the dole"

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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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