Monday, June 30, 2014

Burning and forgetting the homeless, when the New Deal points to a better way

(William Bastian, a homeless man, died in 1939 at the age of 64. Before William's passing, he had been working with the National Park Service on beach erosion control in North Carolina. Records at the National Archives, and communication with residents of Roanoke Island, indicate that Mr. Bastian may have lived in a WPA camp for transient workers at, or near, what is now Fort Raleigh National Historic Site {before 1941, Fort Raleigh was a state park}. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Journalist Christie Thompson recently wrote an interesting article about "What Happens To The Homeless When They Die." She found that, with respect to the homeless in Washington, DC, "many are left unclaimed at the city morgue. After 30 days, they are cremated by a private funeral home and often buried outside the city limits. There is no funeral, no head stone, just a name written in the ledger book of a Maryland or Virginia cemetery." 

There is nothing inherently wrong with cremation, of course.....but I think, in this case, we can safely assume that cremation is not performed per end-of-life request from the homeless person, but rather from a desire to quickly and efficiently get rid of the body and have the least amount of space used for his/her remains. The absence of a funeral (i.e., a ceremony), and the failure to place a headstone, would seem to confirm this.

This is not the mark of a civilized society. But then, neither is the allowance of homelessness in the first place, or the criminalization of homelessness. So, perhaps the burning of an unclaimed homeless person's body, and the placement of his/her ashes in an unmarked grave without ceremony, falls right in line with the survival-of-the-fittest mentality we've been fostering for the past 30+ years.

(A memorial stone for the homeless men--including William Bastian--who died while employed with the National Park Service in North Carolina, probably through the WPA. Photo by Brent McKee.)
During the New Deal, policymakers began to show us a better way to treat the homeless, especially those homeless people who needed a job more than anything else. Harry Hopkins, head of the WPA, reported that "By December, 1934, over two hundred and fifty work camps for transient men were in operation." Hopkins described transients as "jobless and penniless...homeless and friendless." He described their life and employment situation in the following manner:  

"Originally, there had been a strong disposition to view the transient as a man requiring 'casework techniques' and 'therapeutic treatment.' But some transients who stubbornly resisted the casework approach to rehabilitation emerged, under the more normal conditions of a work project, from sullen discouragement and inertia into highly effective workmen. There could be little doubt that what most of them needed was not casework, but a job." (See Harry Hopkins, Spending to Save, pp. 133-134, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1936)

So, on Roanoke Island, for those who care to see, there is historical evidence of a better way to address the problem of homelessness. Instead of neglect, criminalization, or band-aid policies, we see work opportunities, a paycheck, shelter from weather & physical assaults (see the report Hate Crimes Against the Homeless), a chance to get back on one's feet, and a proper funeral & burial for homeless people when they die. This is the type of thing President Franklin Roosevelt meant when he said, "We are going to make a country in which no one is left out" (The Roosevelt I Knew, Frances Perkins, 1946). Unfortunately, America has not followed Roosevelt's lead, but has instead embraced the ruthlessness of plutocracy. Hence, we burn, bury, and forget many of our homeless fellow citizens; placing them in a state of disregard even more complete than the one they lived in.

 (This WPA project card at the National Archives describes beach erosion control activities to be conducted  in cooperation with the National Park Service in the counties of Dare, Hyde, and Currituck {North Carolina}. This appears to be the tail-end of the project referred to on the memorial stone in the photo above {note that the project card is for fiscal year 1942, which would have started in July 1941, and would coincide with the dates inscribed on the memorial stone}. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

WPA Poster: Funny Side Up

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

Friday, June 27, 2014

WPA Poster: Goodbye to Hollywood!

(Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Will McAvoy examines the recent behavior of Republicans and Tea Partiers

Above: Jeff Daniels' character Will McAvoy, on the show "Newsroom," analyzes some of the political actions and behaviors of the modern right-wing movement. Original YouTube link:

We know that the modern right-wing movement is funded by conservative radical right-wing millionaires, billionaires, and corporations (see, e.g., "The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party"). These people and organizations have little interest in what's good for society, but a great interest in their personal fortunes and their ability to engage in unfettered pollution of the environment. They are Organized Money. Below, listen to what President Roosevelt thought about the manipulation of government, and opposition to New Deal policies, by Organized Money.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Austerity and the definition of depraved heart murder

(WPA workers installing a water line in Cumberland, Maryland, 1937. New Deal policymakers were interested in improving--not cutting off--water service to Americans. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

According to Cornell University Law School, depraved heart murder (called second degree murder in most jurisdictions) is "Killing someone in a way that demonstrates a callous disregard for the value of human life" (see here). It's not necessarily a premeditated or intentional killing, but a killing that results from behavior that is reckless or sociopathic. 

Now, with that in mind, consider the following policies that our political "leaders" have been imposing on lower-income Americans:

1. Withholding water from the poor - Recently, the city of Detroit started cutting off water to people who are behind on their water bills, most of whom are low-income and/or broke. Some activists have asked the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights to help them. (See, "Detroit Shuts Off Water To Thousands Of Broke Residents")

2. Cutting off food assistance to those in need - In recent years, lawmakers have worked hard to reduce food assistance to low-income Americans. (See, e.g., "The Crazy Republican War on Food Stamps," "Budget Cuts Devastate Meals On Wheels: Enrollment Slashed, Services Cancelled," and "South Carolina Lt. Governor Andre Bauer Compares His State's Poor Children to 'Stray Animals'")  

3. Withholding preventative health care from the poor - Republican-managed states have disallowed the expansion of Medicaid to their low-income residents, even though the federal government would pay 100% of the cost for the first few years, and 90% thereafter. Medicaid is an important service, because it allows low-income Americans to receive quality preventative health care (as opposed to waiting until things get so bad that a trip to the emergency room is needed). According to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health, it's likely that thousands will die prematurely due to Republican refusal to expand Medicaid. Of course, we don't necessarily need a study to know this. It's common sense that if you don't catch problems early--because health care services are too costly for you--you're more likely to become seriously ill and/or die. (See, e.g., "27,000 May Die Next Year Because Republican Governors, Lawmakers Refuse to Expand Medicaid")  

4. Cutting off unemployment benefits for the jobless - At a time when the "job creators" are not creating many jobs, but instead adding millions and billions to their personal fortunes (which are sometimes secreted off to foreign bank accounts to evade historically low tax rates), Republicans and Tea Partiers have focused on cutting off income assistance to the unemployed. (See, e.g., "Clueless About the Jobless: Republican opposition to extending unemployment benefits makes no sense" and "Better Unemployment Benefits Reduce Suicides: Study")

5. Criminalizing homelessness & making it illegal to feed the homeless - Instead of increasing aid to those who need help after the worst recession since the Great Depression, many local governments across the United States have made it a crime to help the homeless, and have also made activities which the homeless engage in--like sitting on a sidewalk--illegal. (See, e.g., "Criminalization" and "North Carolina Charity Threatened With Arrest For Feeding Homeless People")

6. Allowing increased rates of suicide & forbidding public job programs - Despite clear evidence that financial stress and joblessness leads to increased rates of suicide (see, "Risk Factors and Warning Signs" and "Joblessness And Hopelessness: The Link Between Unemployment And Suicide") there has been little or no interest in Congress for a public jobs program for the long-term unemployed. Indeed, Senate Republicans even blocked legislation that would have created a public jobs program for unemployed veterans.

 (WPA workers building a reservoir in Elkton, Maryland, 1936. New Deal policymakers improved American drinking water services on a scale not seen before or since. Today, the story is quite different. Detroit is withholding water from its broke residents and our drinking water infrastructure is deteriorating, recently receiving a letter grade of "D"  from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Journalist and author Matt Taibbi, who has covered financial wrongdoings in America for years, argues that American society has "a profound hatred of the weak and the poor." His argument rings true, especially when you hear right-wing politicians, pundits, and Internet comment-makers casting the less fortunate as undeserving "parasites."

David Stuckler, a researcher at Oxford University, and Sanjay Basu, an epidemiologist at Stanford University, contend that austerity is a killer, writing "the price of austerity can be calculated in human lives" (see "How Austerity Kills").

Interestingly, citizens of the United Kingdom recently marched against austerity. British Parliament member Caroline Lucas said, "We are here with an important message for the government...That it wasn't the poor who caused the economic crisis. It wasn't people on job seeker's allowance who brought down the banks. It wasn't people with disabilities who are wasting billions speculating on risky financial markets. And it's not immigrants who are thieving billions in bonuses. So that's why we are here to say, 'Stop punishing the poor!'"

The same phenomenon that Lucas highlights has happened in America. The homeless, the unemployed, public sector workers, unions, etc. have been scapegoated by the political right for the economic problems caused by rampant fraud & white collar crime emanating from Corporate America -- Insider trading, mortgage & securities fraud, illegal tax evasion, money laundering for drug cartels, predatory & discriminatory lending, illegal foreclosures on active duty soldiers, interest-rate rigging, accounting fraud, wage & price fixing. All this and more Corporate America has pleaded guilty to and/or paid large fines & court settlements for (and it isn't just the government that has pursued legal action, there have been many shareholder lawsuits too).

Unfortunately, hundreds of court cases, guilty pleas, civil lawsuits, etc., don't faze the political right or the pushers-of-austerity too much. To them, it's still the "moochers" and "takers" who are causing the problems. The ignorance of the political right has reached such catastrophic heights, that there can be little doubt that it's helping to fuel the increase in suicides (another example of their ignorance would be their refusal to acknowledge the human impact on climate change, despite a 97% level of agreement among climate scientists that man is causing global warming).

So, here are the million-dollar questions: Are the lives lost through austerity and punishment of the poor intentional or unintentional? And, even if unintentional, might it reasonably be argued that austerity and the punishment of the poor--policies that have lead to death--are evidence of a callous disregard for the value of human life? Obviously, no one is going to be arrested for pushing policies that harm or kill low-income Americans; but isn't it interesting how similar austerity & punishment of the poor are to the definition of depraved heart murder? (See "Republican Rejection of Medicaid Expansion is Depraved")

(WPA poster describing public water services in New York City. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Instead of a New Deal, a 192% increase in sewage rates

(The WPA built this sewage plant in Thurmont, Maryland, in 1941. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

In the small town of New Creek, West Virginia, residents will see a 192% sewage rate increase--to pay for a new treatment plant (see "PSC rules: 192 percent sewer hike for New Creek"). This type of thing is happening all across the country. Middle- and lower-income Americans are being asked to pay higher taxes, tolls, fees, and fines--usually at the state & local level--to subsidize the tax evasion and tax avoidance practiced by many corporations and super-wealthy Americans.

During the New Deal, federally-paid WPA workers built or improved over 4,000 utility plants and installed over 24,000 miles of storm and sanitary sewer lines. We could do the same today, if so many of our political "leaders" were not owned by their super-wealthy campaign contributors, many of whom, no doubt, profit from tax evasion and tax avoidance. We could raise taxes on the super-wealthy, we could take a more aggressive approach to illegal tax evasion by Americans using foreign bank accounts, we could stop corporations from ransoming us with their offshore-held profits, and so on. Unfortunately, it's easier to slam the little guy than it is to irritate your political sugar daddies with higher tax rates.

Hence, as billionaires keep adding billions to their fortunes, the middle-class and poor are forced to pay higher bridge tolls, higher fuel taxes, higher sales taxes, higher sewage rates, etc. To add insult to injury, the "job creators" (i.e., the people we shelter from higher tax rates) are not creating many jobs, other than some crappy low-wage, no-future jobs.

We could have a new, and even stronger New Deal. We could have a federally-funded WPA to modernize and improve our utility services. Instead, we're getting wallet-draining plutocracy. So, the question is this: Is it worth paying higher taxes, tolls, fees, and fines to support trickle-down economics and white collar crime? For now, we've answered "yes." Hopefully, in the not-too-distant-future, we'll answer "no."   

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The National Zoo closes their invertebrate exhibit. A new WPA could have kept it open.

(WPA workers constructing a sea lion exhibit at the Buffalo Zoo. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

The National Zoo recently closed their invertebrate exhibit, citing lack of necessary funds to upgrade and maintain it. A lot of people are upset (see, e.g., "Visitors furious over National Zoo's decision to close invertebrate exhibit" and "Save the invertebrates at the National Zoo").

During the New Deal era, many of the unemployed were hired to modernize zoos across the country. For example, workers in both the CWA and WPA performed extensive work at the National Zoo. (See the Living New Deal, here and here, for examples of New Deal projects at the National Zoo.)

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are still 3.4 million long-term unemployed Americans. And, of course, we know that this figure only barely touches on the problem of un- an under-employment in America (see, e.g., The National Jobs For All Coalition). We could hire un- and under-employed Americans to upgrade the National Zoo, just as we did during the New Deal era. But, of course, right-wing politicians, pundits, and Internet comment-makers are too busy casting the unemployed as "takers," "moochers," "lazy-good-for-nothings," and "unskilled parasites," to consider the possibility. Also, unfortunately, most Democrats are too weak to propose a new WPA (when the late-Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) proposed a new WPA several years ago, he received very little support from fellow Democrats).

(The description for this 1940 photo reads, "View of Monkey Island, constructed by the WPA, in the San Francisco Zoo." The San Francisco Zoo reports that its "first major exhibits were built in the 1930's by the depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) at a cost of $3.5 million" (that's about $60 million in today's dollars). Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

All around us we are seeing services cut, the dumbing down of public architecture, and rising taxes, tolls, fees, and fines at the state & local level (where the middle-class and poor get hit). And, as these things are occurring, the super-wealthy keep adding millions and billions to their personal fortunes, which are sometimes secreted off to tax evading bank accounts in foreign countries (see, e.g., "Big Credit Suisse’s Sweetheart Deal").

The National Zoo's invertebrate exhibit, like the American middle-class and poor, is a victim of plutocracy, austerity, trickle-down economics, white collar crime, and the Tea Party-fueled government shutdown of 2013 (see, e.g., "Smithsonian Faces $65M Cut in Congress' Budget," highlighting, among other things, how the National Zoo was financially harmed by the Government shutdown).

The National Zoo needs another New Deal and the long-term unemployed need a new WPA. Unfortunately, all they're going to get is a punch in the gut from the political right. Meanwhile, we've spent billions upon billions of dollars destabilizing Iraq, and now some war hawks want us to double-down on that spending. Isn't that pathetic? When are we going to focus on our own country's problems--deteriorating infrastructure, unemployment, stagnant wages, underfunded medical care for veterans, dwindling public services, etc.--and stop policing (i.e., destabilizing) the world and demonizing the less fortunate?

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

Friday, June 20, 2014

WPA Poster: A Hero is Born

(Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.) 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Instead of a WPA, a 65% increase in the gasoline tax

 (A WPA road project near Cumberland, Maryland, 1939. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Once again, some of our congressional "leaders" are asking us to subsidize the tax evasion & avoidance practiced by the super-wealthy. Two U.S. senators are proposing a "bipartisan," 65% increase in the federal gasoline tax because Congress is struggling "to pay for highway and transit programs." 

If this tax increase is passed it will further burden middle- and low-income Americans because it is a regressive tax.

Some researchers and policy wonks claim that the gasoline tax is not regressive because, for example, "hey, a lot of poor people don't have cars and thus won't have to pay it." But this is yet another example of how those of greater means do not understand the lives of those of limited means. It reminds me of Hurricane Katrina, where those of greater means essentially said, "Hey, just hop in your Cadillac Escalade and evacuate, what's the problem?" 

If one has worked in lower-income areas, and worked alongside lower-income groups, then one would know that many lower-income people wish they had a car or, if they have one, desperately need it. Why? Because a vehicle expands a person's employment and educational opportunities. It also makes life a whole lot easier when, for example, you need to pick up your child at school and take them to a medical appointment.

Public transportation is great, and I'm all for it, but it doesn't go everywhere and it doesn't operate at all times. And, in certain instances, in can be dangerous and unreliable (yes, I've used public transportation quite a bit--buses, the DC metro, the Baltimore Light Rail--and I've seen its upsides and downsides, e.g., a man vomiting on the passenger in front of him).

To say, "poor people don't have cars, so go ahead and raise the gasoline tax" is to move in a direction of car-ownership-only-for-the-well-to-do. I think that's the wrong approach. The fact of the matter is, if you're struggling financially, and you need your car, an increase in the gasoline tax is going to hurt. That's what a regressive tax does, it hurts people of limited means more than it hurts people of greater means--policy wonk pontification & data set analysis notwithstanding.

Some people might say, "Well, we can offset the tax burden with tax changes elsewhere." Please. Does anyone who has been paying the least bit of attention to the foolishness in Congress these past 6 years believe that our "rudderless bunch of idiots" is going to do anything to help struggling Americans?  (See "Congress gets record low approval rating in midterm year"). The fact of the matter is that Congress has become a legislative body of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.     

I would argue that there is a better solution to road funding--a two-pronged solution: (1) A public jobs program where the unemployed are trained and hired to maintain roads, and (2) a greater crackdown on wealthy Americans who are hiding their fortunes in foreign bank accounts (the United States loses about $300 billion in revenue, annually, to tax evasion). 

Let me ask: Does it strike you as fair that, on the one hand, the Department of Justice recently struck a deal with a bank where the names of thousands of wealthy income tax evaders can remain secret but, on the other hand, middle- and lower-income Americans need to start paying more for gasoline because, as a nation, we are supposedly broke? Do you think it is morally right to say to low wage workers who drive to work (as many in suburban and rural areas do), "Hey, you need to start paying more for gasoline," while letting multi-billion dollar corporations hoard profits overseas to avoid paying taxes? (See "Stiglitz: Tax-Dodging, Corporate Welfare Destroying US Economy")

During the New Deal era, the federal government paid WPA laborers to work on America's roads and highways. These workers created or improved 650,000 miles of roadway. That's enough roadwork to go around the Earth 26 times. The fact that we have collectively decided that a new WPA is not possible or desirable, but that an array of regressive taxes, tolls, fees, and fines are possible and desirable (in the face of wide-scale tax evasion & avoidance by the super-wealthy) is yet another sign of a country embracing plutocracy. 

We should not pay higher gasoline taxes to subsidize tax evasion & avoidance by the super-wealthy. And, if we want to discourage the use of fossil fuels, we should do it not through regressive taxation, but through greater investment in the research & development of alternative energy vehicles and alternative energy infrastructure, and also, yes, improvements to public transportation (which are, coincidentally, more projects that a new WPA could work on.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Forgotten Labor: Infrastructure and the WPA (a mini-documentary)

Above: Watch my just-completed documentary about the WPA and infrastructure! The presentation includes some narration, film footage, historic photos, and music. Remember the hard work of our elders and ancestors! And don't forget to see thousands of their still-existing projects at the Living New Deal

If you'd prefer to watch the video at YouTube, the link is: Also, don't forget to use the little gear tool, in the lower right-hand corner of the viewer, if you need to adjust the resolution.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Trees for India, Wildfires for America

(WPA artist Maurice Merlin created this poster in Michigan, between 1941 and 1943. For an interesting biography of Merlin, click here. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

India is considering hiring some of its unemployed youth to plant 2 billion trees. Meanwhile, here in America, Congress has been working hard to protect the fortunes of the rich by cutting funding for wildfire prevention (even as we're experiencing record-setting wildfires and drought). If you're a tree, your prospects might be better in India.

During the New Deal era, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted about 3 billion trees.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The WPA and Father's Day

(The description for this photograph reads, "Mr. Amos Asoian, Armenian of West Andover, Massachusetts, works as a truck driver on WPA (Work Projects Administration) and helps his family on their small vegetable farm." Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

One can only imagine the pain of a father who is unemployed, especially on Father's Day. During the New Deal, policymakers tried to provide dignity through useful jobs in the WPA (and other work programs) for those who wanted them. Today, on the other hand, unemployed fathers don't have a WPA to apply to. But they do have an endless torrent of insults coming from those on the political right who are eager to demonize them as "lazy" and "takers" (thereby making it even harder for them to find jobs). Hopefully, someday, we'll return to an era of opportunities instead of insults. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Flag Day

Above: WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

 Above: The description for this photo, taken in New York City, reads: "Supervisor and WPA workers are shown discussing the various colors of silk to be used in the restoration of the historic battle flag before them." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Friday, June 13, 2014

WPA Poster

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

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The American Labor Market: Six years of "a long way to go"

(Image courtesy of

This is an update of a blog post I did in 2013...

After the November 2009 jobs report, President Obama said, "We've still got a long way to go."

After the March 2010 jobs report, economist and presidential adviser Larry Summers said, "We've got a long way to go."

After the June 2011 jobs report, President Obama said, "We still have a long way to go."

After the May 2012 jobs report, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, "we have a long way to go."

After the January 2013 jobs report, Jill Schlesinger, Editor-at-Large for CBS MoneyWatch, said we "still have a long way to go."

After the June 2014 jobs report, Ryan Sweet, economist at Moody's Analytics, said "we still have a very long way to go."

Indeed, we do have a long way to go. Though the official unemployment rate is now 6.3%, we know that (1) the Labor Force Participation rate is historically low, (2) well over 20 million Americans wish they had a full-time job but can't find one, (3) many of the jobs that are being created are low-wage/no-future jobs, (4) the unemployment rates for younger adults are still in the double-digits, (5) the main unemployment statistic, 6.3%, does not include people who have given up hope and stopped looking for work (and thus misleads the public into thinking that the labor market is getting much better), and (6) most Americans believe--quite accurately--that the American Dream is dying. What Nobel-winning economist Dr. Joseph Stiglitz wrote in the Financial Times in 2012 is just as true today:

"America used to be thought of as the land of opportunity. Today, a child’s life chances are more dependent on the income of his or her parents than in Europe, or any other of the advanced industrial countries for which there are data. The US worked hard to create the American dream of opportunity. But today, that dream is a myth."   

The solution to all this foolishness, of course, is a new and stronger New Deal. But, as long as millions of Americans continue to give a free pass to white collar crime & the financial mischief on Wall Street, and choose instead to focus their anger on public school teachers, the homeless, and Medicaid for low-income Americans, we'll continue to see the American Dream die. A culture cannot thrive when the problems of corporate greed, corruption, and crime are interpreted by a significant percentage of the population as: "The unemployed are lazy!"

(In the video above, Bartlett Naylor, former Chief of Investigations for the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, explains the role of big banks in the Libor interest rate-rigging scandal. At 4:25, Naylor states: "I think what this scandal shows is that Wall Street is making this money, it's overtaking our economy, any way it can...and that includes cheating.")

Monday, June 9, 2014

A New Deal for Massachusetts

(The description for this 1937 image reads, "'By A.L. Ripley, Lexington Branch Post Office, Boston, MA.' Public Works Administration. Federal Art Project Mural. Paul Revere's Ride." Courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

During the New Deal era, infrastructure was modernized in Massachusetts. For example, WPA workers created or improved 4,193 miles of roadway, engaged in 318 bridge projects, and installed 3,572 culverts. They labored on 316 park projects, 647 playground & athletic field projects, and 57 public pool projects. The WPA also worked on schools, utility plants, waterlines, airports, and more. The WPA's sewing room activities in Massachusetts were particularly voluminous. They were second only to Pennsylvania with respect to the production of clothing for low-income Americans, producing 31 million garments. (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, by the Federal Works Agency, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, pp. 134-136.)

The Living New Deal has inventoried & mapped many still-existing New Deal projects in Massachusetts, for example, the Buzzards Bay Railroad Bridge (Public Works Administration), the Rockport Post Office (U.S. Treasury), and the George Wright Golf Course (Works Progress Administration).

According to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked in dozens of areas across the state, including Mohawk Trail State Forest, Blue Hills Reservation, Douglas State Forest, and Robinson State Park (see "CCC Work in Massachusetts Forests and Parks"). In these areas, CCC boys planted 12 million trees, engaged in fire prevention work, and eradicated harmful tree insects (e.g., the gypsy moth). The CCC also raised and stocked fish (see, e.g., Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, by Perry H. Merrill, 1981, pp. 137-138).

Many believe that spending & investment during the New Deal era was "wasteful" and a "failure." But is it hypocritical to utilize and enjoy thousands of New Deal creations--decades after they were created--while simultaneously labeling them failures? What do you think?      

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

 (The description for this 1935 image reads, "'Crowds like this join lobbies of Federal Theatres in 21 states, anxious to see plays they could never afford before WPA went into the show business.' Works Progress Aministration. Federal Theatre Project. Boston, MA." Image courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

(A WPA poster promoting an art exhibit in Boston. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

(WPA workers clearing debris after the New England Hurricane of 1938, near Fairhaven, Massachusetts. The WPA helped during and after many natural disasters across the United States--providing food, restoring utilities, assisting in search & rescue operations, fortifying levees, and more. Photo by the WPA.)

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.)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Accomplishments of the National Youth Administration (part 9 of 10): Helping Wounded Soldiers

(A WPA poster promoting support for America's soldiers. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

In the early years of World War II, injured soldiers returning home could find work & training opportunities in the NYA. According to the Final Report of the National Youth Administration the soldiers "seemed satisfied with their immediate acceptance into a working group and welcomed the work training which would prepare them occupationally in keeping with their disabilities" (p. 130).

This particular program did not last long, as the NYA was terminated less than two years after America's declarations of war. The NYA, along with other New Deal work & construction programs, became less essential as workers were increasingly employed in military and defense-related industries. Still, we see again how New Deal policy-makers pointed us towards a more ethical way to treat our soldiers & veterans (as another example, World War I veterans were eligible to serve in the Civilian Conservation Corps, even though they exceeded the program's age limit).

Compare this New Deal treatment of our soldiers & veterans, to the recent treatment they have received from Congressional Republicans. For example, Republicans blocked legislation that would have upgraded VA medical facilities, they blocked legislation that would have created a public jobs program for unemployed veterans, and they proposed legislation to end housing assistance for homeless veterans. Unfortunately, far from being dissatisfied with these legislative actions, millions of Americans stand ready to vote in even more Republican lawmakers to our Congress. Is it any wonder that the suicide rate for our young veterans has soared? They need a New Deal, not the callous treatment they have been receiving from both conservative lawmakers and Corporate America (see, e.g., "Debt Collectors Targeting Members Of The Armed Services" and "Bank Of America Will Pay $20 Million For Illegal Foreclosures On Active-Duty Soldiers"). 

***For a fascinating explanation on why the treatment of our soldiers & veterans is so often deficient, see "Here's the Simple Reason Congress Hasn't Fixed the VA" (hint: because it won't line their pockets with campaign cash). And for an interesting article about a veterans' group calling out Republicans for their anti-veteran legislative actions, see "Veterans Group Targets Mitch McConnell, Richard Burr In New Ad Campaign."  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Accomplishments of the National Youth Administration (part 8 of 10): Flight

(The description for this photo reads, "Mrs. Virginia Davis, a riveter in the assembly and repair department of the Naval Air Base, supervises Chas. Potter, a NYA trainee from Michigan." This photo was taken in Corpus Christi, Texas, in August of 1942. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

The National Youth Administration (NYA) engaged in a large amount of projects related to aviation. These projects (1) gave NYA participants job training and modest pay, (2) helped modernize America's airport infrastructure, and (3) contributed to our national defense and war effort.  

Nationally, the NYA created 23 new landing fields, 113 new seaplane landing locations, 123 new seaplane landing facilities, 31 new aircraft hangars, and 49 other new airport buildings. They also engaged in many other projects to repair or improve existing airport infrastructure (Final Report of the National Youth Administration, p. 140).

NYA airport work also included the installation of boundary cones, corner markers, and windsocks.        

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

An interesting NYA project began in 1939, when "NYA youth started to build a transcontinental chain of seaplane bases extending from Maine to Key West, and along the Gulf of Mexico to Louisiana. Other network of bases were established up the Pacific coast, in the Mississippi Valley, and in the Great Lakes region. These bases usually consisted of docks and pontoons" (Final Report of the National Youth Administration, p. 139).

In addition to airport infrastructure work, the NYA had an extensive program in aircraft mechanics. NYA youth were trained in "motors, starters, generators, fuselages, wings, radio equipment...blueprints...sheet metal...instrument repair, electrical work, propeller work, dope and fabric work" and also filled support roles as "clerks, stenographers, warehousemen, and general helpers..." (Final Report of the National Youth Administration, p. 158).

In Minnesota, NYA youth built 5 gliders "for use throughout the State in cooperation with the State Aeronautical Commission" (Final Report of the National Youth Administration, p. 159).

Many people (then and now) consider New Deal investment in our youth--such as the NYA provided--to have been "wasteful spending!" and "godless communism!" And I have observed that many of these same people have no problem with America having the largest prison-industrial complex in the world (in fact, they sometimes call for even more prisons). What are your thoughts?   

(This WPA poster was created in Ohio, 1937, by artist Blanche L. Anish. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

 (The description for this photo reads, "Oyida Peaks riveting as part of her NYA training to become a mechanic in the Assembly and Repair Department at the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas." This photo was taken in 1942 and is provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

(The description for this photo reads, "Working inside the nose of a PBY, Elmer J. Pace is learning the construction of Navy planes, Corpus Christi, Texas. As an NYA trainee at the Naval Air Base, he gets practical experience. After about eight weeks, he will go into civil service as a sheet metal worker." This photo was taken in 1942 and is provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Accomplishments of the National Youth Administration (part 7 of 10): Infrastructure

American infrastructure in the 21st century?

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave American infrastructure a letter grade of D+, noting numerous problems with our schools, airports, roads, water systems, parks, etc. Like other New Deal work and construction programs, the National Youth Administration (NYA) played a significant role in modernizing our infrastructure.

NYA infrastructure work (new constructions, repairs, and improvements) included just about anything you can imagine--courthouses, schools, airports, recreation centers, bus stations, picnic camp shelters, bleachers, swimming pools, bridges, conservation dams, gymnasiums, tennis courts, roads, retaining walls, drinking fountains, fire hydrants, libraries, hospitals, and more (Final Report of the National Youth Administration, pp. 135-140).

Considering our current and long-lasting problems of youth unemployment and deteriorating infrastructure, wouldn't it be nice if our policy-makers connected the dots and created a new NYA? Of course, to do that they'd have to take a break from the hard work of creating tax cuts and tax loopholes for their super-wealthy campaign contributors.

In other words, don't hold your breath. 

(A stone/block gutter at Inwood Park in New York, built by the National Youth Administration in 1938. Today, our National Park system has a maintenance backlog of about $11 billion. State and local parks, even more desperate for funding, are becoming increasingly reliant on charity. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Accomplishments of the National Youth Administration (part 6 of 10): Archaeology

(Image courtesy of

According to Dr. Bernard K. Means of Virginia Commonwealth University, editor and contributor of Shovel Ready: Archaeology and Roosevelt's New Deal for America,

"The National Youth Administration (NYA) sponsored archaeological projects across the nation, albeit on a smaller scale than the WPA or CCC.  In the west, the Sacramento Junior College directed surveys and excavations in the Sacramento region of central California; the Durango Public Library supported excavations of Puebloan sites in the Durango, Colorado, area--usually one step ahead of construction financed by other work relief agencies; some of the archaeological work at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, was conduced by NYA crews; and, prior to the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Colombia River in eastern Washington state, NYA crews moved quickly to document and excavate sites before they were covered by rising flood waters--often living in remote camps."

"In the east, some of the NYA projects include investigations at the Daniel Boone Homestead in Berks County, Pennsylvania, where Daniel Boone was born; a survey around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and, excavations at Town Creek Mound in North Carolina" (email correspondence with Dr. Means, 5-31-2014).

(A National Youth Administration worker performing lab work. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Accomplishments of the National Youth Administration (part 5 of 10): Job Training for Young Americans

Above:  The description for this New York City photo reads, "A group of young women are shown in the welding shop of the NYA Work Experience Center, 43-02 Ditmars Boulevard. The young women are being assigned to the mechanical and metal trades work shops to give them experience in defense activities. The center, the largest of its kind in the country, employs more than 3,000 young men and women in its automobile repair, sheet metal, furniture repair, upholstery, welding, sewing and painting shops." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: "NYA workers attending classes in auto mechanics. Phoenix, Arizona," 1936. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.

Above: NYA participants could gain valuable experience in social studies. Here, NYA workers in Illinois research the "mobility of physicians." Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.

Above: A young woman on a NYA sewing project in Minnesota. According to the Final Report of the National Youth Administration, "Throughout the NYA program, sewing was an important project work for girls. It ranged from sewing scrap material by hand to power sewing of heavy materials which led directly into defense and war employment...In Milwaukee, Wis., several hundred girls made and repaired clothes for orphanages and city welfare groups...Some of the largest sewing orders for projects in all States came from hospitals for which girls made all types of medical and surgical supplies, and uniforms for doctors, nurses, and domestic employees...the garment workers union cooperated, and youth automatically matriculated in the union when they applied for private employment" (p. 144-145). Between 1936 and 1942, NYA sewing workers made 11.2 million garments, 4.6 million household articles, 30.7 million hospital supplies, and 144 thousand flags (p. 146). Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum and the New Deal Network.