Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Happy (what should be) National WPA Day of Recognition!

(Image courtesy of the National Archives.)

The WPA was created on May 6, 1935, by Executive Order No. 7034. President Roosevelt had the authority to create the WPA via the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, passed by Congress a month earlier. 

The WPA employed 8.5 million jobless Americans to modernize and repair our nation's infrastructure (and they performed a lot of other jobs too, e.g., theater plays, concerts, historic preservation, environmental restoration, research studies, food assistance, making clothes for low-income families, etc.). These formerly unemployed Americans created or improved 650,000 miles of roadway--enough roadwork to go around the Earth 26 times--and engaged in tens of thousands of work projects to build and repair bridges, schools, airports, hospitals, dams, libraries, firehouses, and much more.

The existence of the WPA coincided with massive increases in America's GDP and substantial reductions in the unemployment rate. Only when the WPA was scaled back did the nation's GDP and unemployment numbers worsen. When it was ramped up again, the numbers improved.

The infrastructure work of the WPA--and other New Deal work and construction programs--served as the backbone for America's post-World War II prosperity. The nation's economy expanded along WPA roads, across WPA bridges, in WPA buildings, and out of WPA airports. And we are still utilizing thousands of WPA projects today. The Living New Deal has mapped 6,000 still-existing sites, structures, and works of art from the New Deal era (many of them WPA), and they have many more thousands to go.

The WPA also played a vital role in America's national defense by improving military bases, salvaging scrap metal, working on airports that were used for flight training, training airplane mechanics, and more. Many WPA workers went on to serve in the military or defense industries during World War II.

Considering all this, you would think that, as a nation, we would remember the work of these 8.5 million Americans with a national day of recognition. So...will we?

Nope.

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