Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How the New Deal Helped Win World War II (part 5 of 10): The National Youth Administration Strengthened the Defense Industry

(An interesting 8-minute film, narrated by Eleanor Roosevelt, showing how women in the National Youth Administration contributed to the war effort. Original YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFzQhjFcFSM.)

(In this 1942 photograph, an NYA trainee is working on an airplane at the Naval Air Base in Corpus Christie, Texas. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

As the second world war threatened--and then dragged the nation in--the National Youth Administration (NYA) slowly evolved from an agency concerned with youth unemployment per se, to an agency that trained unemployed young workers for defense industry jobs. For example, according to the Texas State Historical Association, "After the beginning of World War II, in eleven resident training centers in Texas, young men and women received instruction in skills vital to the defense effort -- welding, sheet-metal work, woodwork, and radio repair. After their training they were sent all over the nation to jobs in private companies with defense contracts" ("National Youth Administration," http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ncn04).

The Final Report of the National Youth Administration, Fiscal Years 1936-1943, further details the type of defense industry training that NYA participants engaged in:

Aircraft sheet metal
Other sheet metal
Arc welding
Gas welding
Aircraft welding
Automotive mechanics
Aircraft mechanics
Aircraft engine mechanics
Aircraft woodwork
General woodwork
Industrial sewing
Mechanical drafting
Other shop activities
Clerical activities

(Federal Security Agency, War Manpower Commission, Final Report of the National Youth Administration Fiscal Years 1936-1943, p. 96, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1944)

 (NYA trainee Mildred Webb operates a cutting machine at the Naval Air Base in Corpus Christi, Texas, 1942. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Often, when there are economic down times--down times caused by things such as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 or housing bubbles exacerbated by fraudulent mortgages & securities--many will choose to ignore the real causes and instead target the weak & poor for condemnation. For example, they'll declare that the unemployed are lazy, unskilled, and not worthy of help. So, it's interesting to see some of the testimonies of private sector employers who hired young (and formerly unemployed) men who went through the NYA program:

"Our records indicate that these men (NYA) have come to us well qualified for shipyard work, and they have proven themselves to be excellent employees. We hope your training program is to continue during the coming year and that we shall be able to count on additional men..."
--California Shipbuilding Corporation, Wilmington, California

"We have found that NYA trained boys generally have excellent background in work experience and in citizenship...They appear to adapt themselves very easily to our training activities, evidently because of their previous training."
--Carnegie Steel Corporation, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

"After observing our records, we find that your boys have without exception been above the average...There is no doubt that Lockheed is indebted to you and your organization for the work you have done in aid of national defense."
--Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, Burbank, California

"To date we have in our employ 50 boys who have had some previous shop training under NYA instruction...By placing some with our more experienced workers and machinists, we have been able to partially fill a gap caused by our inability to obtain more experienced help."
--The Remington Arms Company, Bridgeport, Connecticut

"We wish to advise that we have employed several young men in our plant who have had pre-employment training, such as conducted by your administration, and find that they have a distinct advantage over young men without this training."
--The Trow Engine & Machine Company, Troy, Pennsylvania

(p. 162 of the Final Report, see full cite above)  

(The description for this photo reads "...a group of patterns made in the NYA national defense pattern-making shop in Chickasha (Oklahoma). Defense industries want well trained pattern makers and the NYA in Oklahoma is training 45 in this national defense department." Photo taken circa 1940-43, courtesy of the National Archives and New Deal Network.)

When President Roosevelt created the NYA by executive order, 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" (Final Report, p. 23). What do you think? Did the nation--and young Americans--benefit from the creation of work & training opportunities in the NYA? Or would the nation have been better off if the unemployed had been condemned as "lazy good-for-nothings," unworthy of help, as so many politicians, pundits, radio show hosts, and Internet comment makers have done today?

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