PUBLIC-SERVICE EMPLOYMENT 1 was first used by the Roosevelt Administration with the establishment in 1935 of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to relieve unemployment. The WPA employed over 3 million workers at its peak (at a time when more than 9 million were unemployed) and averaged about $1.4 billion annually in wage payments from 1935 to its termination in 1943.
Public-service employment appeared on the domestic policy scene again in the early seventies, though in this period its purpose was twofold: to reduce unemployment and to provide jobs for disadvantaged and structurally unemployed workers. In 1971 President Nixon, having vetoed a public-service employment bill a year earlier, signed the Emergency Employment Act, which authorized a two-year public-employment program (PEP). The PEP program peaked at $1.25 billion in 1973. Spending for public-service job programs trailed off after 1973, but was revived under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), which went into effect in July 1974.
The story of the growth of the public-service employment (PSE) component of CETA under the Carter Administration is well known. Authorized at $370 million for 1974, PSE spending grew to over $6 billion in fiscal year 1978, at which time it was by far the largest of three components of the Carter Administration's economic-stimulus package enacted in 1977. (The stimulus package also included local public-works funding and emergency revenue-sharing payments.)