Saturday, June 7, 2014

Accomplishments of the National Youth Administration (part 10 of 10): Hope

(NYA worker learning the printing trade. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

The summary of The Final Report of the National Youth Administration explains why job programs for young men & women were needed during the Great Depression: "The clamoring needs of a great segment of the population for work were unmet, and despair dwelt in the hearts of men. Millions of the Nation's youth were caught at the bottom of the ladder, unable to take the first step toward adulthood" (p. 233). The Final Report then issued a warning for the future: "The hopes of the coming generations cannot be jeopardized" (p. 236).

Fast-forward 70 years from the publication of The Final Report, and it is obvious that we have not heeded its warning. For example, as of May 2014 the unemployment rate for Americans between the ages of 20 and 24 was 11.1% (see relevant Bureau of Labor Statistics here). And we know that the unemployment rate for this group has been high ever since the Great Recession started 6 years ago. Further, we know that earning a college degree is no longer a certain path to prosperity--see "How Bad is the Job Market for the College Class of 2014?"

When President Franklin Roosevelt created the National Youth Administration, he said: "I have determined that we shall do something for the Nation's unemployed youth because we can ill afford to lose the skill and energy of these young men and women. They must have their chance in school, their turn as apprentices, and their opportunity for jobs--a chance to work and earn for themselves. In recognition of this great national need, I have established a National Youth Administration, to be under the Works Progress Administration" (Final Report, p. 23).

And so the federal government offered work, training, education, recreation, and social opportunities to millions of jobless young Americans after the national economy had shut them out. Some would call that "wasteful spending!!" Others might call it "hope."

(NYA workers in Illinois, circa 1936-1937. According to the Final Report of the National Youth Administration, "Of primary significance to the carrying out of democratic principles was the consistent attitude of NYA officials toward nondiscrimination. Conscientious efforts were made to give Negroes and youth of other equally important minority groups opportunities for obtaining work experience and for continuation of their education" (p. 235). Photo provided courtesy of the New Deal Network.)

(NYA workers gained experience operating machinery. Photo courtesy of the New Deal Network.)

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

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