Friday, April 10, 2015

A New Deal for Wisconsin

(Wisconsin state seal, image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Trickle-down economics has not been kind to Wisconsin. For example, since 2000 the middle-class in Wisconsin has shrunk faster than in any other state. And Republican Governor Scott Walker's economic record leaves much to be desired: "The state lags in job growth and its budget faces a shortfall."

It doesn't have to be this way of course. Instead of focusing on campaign cash from out-of-state billionaires, pooh-poohing a minimum wage increase, reducing funding for education, and demonizing unions, Wisconsin politicians could learn a thing or two from the New Deal. Here are some New Deal facts & figures for the Badger State...

Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA):

In February of 1935, 2,835 college students in Wisconsin 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 $77 million to Wisconsin for relief efforts (about $1.3 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)

Civil Works Administration (CWA):

In January of 1934, there were 134,000 Wisconsinites working in the CWA, building or repairing schools, roads, bridges, and more.

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

(A CWA work plaque at Breese Stevens Athletic Field, in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of James Steakley and Wikipedia. Used here under the CCA-SA 3.0 Unported License.)

Public Works Administration (PWA):

By 1939, the PWA had contributed $35 million in funding towards 462 infrastructure projects in Wisconsin (not including federal projects). In today's dollars, that's about $596 million.

(Source: "America Builds: The Record of PWA," 1939, p. 284)

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC):

Between 1933 and 1942, over 75,000 Wisconsin men were employed in the CCC. This included about 64,000 junior and veteran enrollees, 2,000 Indians, and 9,000 staff. Among their many accomplishments were the planting of 265 million trees and the stocking of 517 million fish.

(Source: Perry H. Merrill, "Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942," 1981, p. 190)

  (Being in the CCC wasn't just about work. Here, a group of enrollees in Menominie, Wisconsin are learning about auto repair. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

Public Works of Art Project (PWAP):

Between 1933 and 1934, in Region 10 of the PWAP (Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota), unemployed artists were paid to create 4 bas reliefs, 56 sculptures, 513 oil paintings, and other works of art, for use in public buildings and parks.

(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, p. 8)

National Youth Administration (NYA):

During academic year 1939-1940, 652 schools and colleges in Wisconsin were participating in the NYA program, employing about 12,600 students each month.

During any given month of fiscal year 1942, there were about 5,500 young Wisconsin men & women in the NYA's out-of-school work program.

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

(Young men and women in the NYA could learn trades to help them earn a living. These two NYA workers are training in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library & Museum and the New Deal Network.)

Post Offices:

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

Works Progress Administration (WPA):

Between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers in Wisconsin produced 7 million articles of clothing; served 15.4 million school lunches; created or improved 23,000 miles of roads; built or improved 1,000 bridges; installed or improved 19,000 culverts; engaged in 600 projects to build, repair, or improve schools; created or improved 452 parks; installed 400 miles of new water lines; constructed 110,000 linear feet of new airport & airfield runway; and more.

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

(These WPA musicians performed around the Prentice, Wisconsin area. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

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