Monday, March 23, 2015

A New Deal for California

(The Civilian Conservation Corps helped maintain, protect, and improve Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California - see Living New Deal page here. WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

California has experienced more than its fair share of challenges over the last several years: Drought, large wildfires, crumbling infrastructure, unemployment, a shrinking middle-class, tuition & fee increases, a new Bay Bridge with a "bevy of construction problems," over-reliance on inadequate charity, large numbers of homeless people living in the shadows of great wealth, and so on and so on. There are many solutions being discussed, but during the New Deal (with the assistance of a more helpful federal government of course) California had a public policy renaissance. Consider these interesting New Deal facts & figures for California, and how they relate to (and might address) today's problems...

Civil Works Administration (CWA):

In January of 1934, there were 164,000 Californians working in the CWA, building or repairing schools, roads, bridges, and more.

(Source: "Analysis of Civil Works Program Statistics," 1939, p. 18)

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC):

Between 1933 and 1942, 135,000 California men were employed in the CCC. This included about 120,000 junior and veteran enrollees, 2,400 Indians, and 12,900 staff. Among their many accomplishments were the planting of 31 million trees and the protection of 792,000 acres from tree and plant disease.

The CCC program in California also presented an opportunity "to carry out forest fire presupression plans, as well as plans for fighting forest fires." By the end of the program, the CCC boys had devoted about 980,000 man-days of work towards such efforts.

(Source: Perry H. Merrill, "Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942," 1981, pp. 112-113)

(CCC boys at Rock Creek, California, 1933. Before joining the CCC, many young men stowed away on trains looking for work in different parts of the country. What do you think is better for a young man? Unemployed and drifting, or the scene you see above? Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

(California CCC enrollees in boxing gear, 1933. Recreation and physical fitness were important components of the CCC program. In 2013, the National Institutes of Health informed us that "People in the U.S. are becoming obese at younger ages, and more than one-third of adults are obese" ("Young Adult Obesity May Affect Later Heart Disease"). Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA):

In February of 1935, 8,700 college students in California were employed in FERA's College Student Aid Program. This was a program "undertaken in order to enable young persons who would not otherwise have been able to do so to continue their education, and thereby reduce the influx of young workers into the labor market" (recall that during the Great Depression there was a large drop in the demand for labor).

Between 1933 and 1935, FERA granted $164 million to California for relief efforts (about $2.7 billion in today's dollars). FERA funds typically went towards cash relief, rural relief projects, and a wide variety of work programs.

(Source: "Final Statistical Report of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration," 1942, pp. 64, 103, and 232)

Public Works Administration (PWA):

By 1939, the PWA had contributed $103 million in funding towards 807 infrastructure projects in California (not including federal projects). In today's dollars, that's about $1.7 billion.

(Source: "America Builds: The Record of PWA," 1939, p. 285)

(A PWA-funded water tower in Fresno, California, ca. 1933-1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

National Youth Administration (NYA):

During academic year 1939-1940, 576 schools and colleges in California were participating in the NYA program, employing about 20,000 students each month.

During any given month of fiscal year 1942, there were about 6,700 young California men & women in the NYA's out-of-school work program.

One of the main objectives of the NYA program was to give work experience to young Americans who were having a hard time "getting in the door" for employment and also (during World War II) to prepare them for defense work. In 1943, the California Shipbuilding Corporation in Wilmington California, wrote: "...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..."

(Source: Federal Security Agency - War Manpower Commission, "Final Report of the National Youth Administration, Fiscal Years 1936-1943," 1944, pp. 162, 246-247, and 254)

(The description for this undated photo reads, "These National Youth Administration workers are digging clams at Morro Beach, CA. They will use the clams to restock tidal creeks where the bivalves have become scarce." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

Post Offices:

During the New Deal era, the U.S Treasury built or expanded Post Office buildings in California and commissioned artists to decorate them. See the Living New Deal for examples.

(This mural is in the Main Post Office of Berkeley, California. It is called "Incidents in California History," and was created by artist Suzanne Scheuer, 1936-1937. Photo by Gray Brechin.) 

Public Works of Art Project (PWAP):

Between 1933 and 1934, in Regions 14 and 15 of the PWAP (California, Nevada, Utah), unemployed artists were paid to create 55 sculptures, 105 murals, 266 oil paintings, 435 water color paintings, and other works of art, for use in public buildings and parks.

The director of Region 14 of the PWAP (southern California) was Merle Armitage, "one of America's leading advocates of modern culture." The director of Region 15 (northern California, Nevada, Utah) was Walter Heil (see "Walter Heil Papers, 1929-1973" Smithsonian Archives of American Art).

(Source: Public Works of Art Project, "Report of the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury to Federal Emergency Relief Administrator, December 8, 1933 - June 30, 1934," 1934, pp. ii and 8)

Works Progress Administration (WPA):

Between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers in California produced 29 million articles of clothing; served 50 million school lunches; created or improved 11,000 miles of roads; built or improved 1,400 bridges; installed or improved 21,000 culverts; engaged in 1,200 projects to build, repair, or improve schools; created or improved 458 parks; installed 1,200 miles of new water lines; constructed 53 miles of new airport & airfield runway; and more.

(Source: "Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43," 1946, pp. 134-136)

(The CCC boys weren't the only ones planting trees. These WPA men are planting trees in California, ca. 1935-1938. Photo from "Inventory: An Appraisal of Results of the Works Progress Administration," 1938.)

(For parents who needed help, the WPA ran nursery schools - like this one in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

(A WPA voice training class in San Francisco, for women with hearing problems. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

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