Monday, June 8, 2015

A New Deal for Connecticut

(This WPA mural is in the city hall of Norwalk, Connecticut, and was painted by artist George Avison, circa 1935. Image courtesy of the Norwalk Transit Department and the Living New Deal. See the webpage "Norwalk's Collection of WPA Murals" for an interesting display of New Deal art.)

Recently the Connecticut legislature passed a budget that increased infrastructure investments. Part of the revenue will come from increased taxes on businesses. The infrastructure investments are very much needed. In its latest survey of the state, the American Society of Civil Engineers noted, among other things, that 413 bridges in Connecticut are structurally deficient; 41% of its major roads are in poor condition; the state's parks have an $84 million maintenance backlog; and, over the next 20 years, the state's drinking water infrastructure will need $3.6 billion worth of work.

A spokesperson for the governor said, "We are asking our wealthiest and our corporate community to help pay for a transformational transportation and infrastructure system that will benefit Connecticut's economy for decades to come..." Unfortunately, three multi-billion dollar companies--G.E., Aetna, and Travelers Insurance--are stunned that they are being asked to help, and two have threatened to leave the state. A Republican state representative even received a phone call from a G.E. executive that left the legislator "shaken" and terrified.

It's a shame that these mega-wealthy corporations don't want to pay a little extra to help Connecticut improve its infrastructure, because the New Deal proved that good things can happen when government invests in things like infrastructure and education. Consider these New Deal facts & figures for "The Constitution State"...

Civil Works Administration (CWA):

In January of 1934, there were over 44,000 residents of Connecticut working in the CWA, building or repairing schools, roads, bridges, and more.

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

Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA):

In February of 1935, 580 college students in Connecticut 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 $25.6 million to Connecticut for relief efforts (about $436 million 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)

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

Public Works Administration (PWA):

By 1939, the PWA had contributed $27.8 million in funding towards 261 infrastructure projects in Connecticut (not including federal projects). In today's dollars, that's about $468 million.

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

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC):

Between 1933 and 1942, about 30,600 Connecticut men were employed in the CCC. This included about 28,400 junior and veteran enrollees and 2,200 staff. Among their many accomplishments were the planting of 5.5 million trees and the protection of 1.6 million acres of land from tree and plant diseases.

(Source: Perry H. Merrill, "Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942," 1981, pp. 116-117)

(The wizard Merlin, from a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. This WPA mural is also in the city hall of Norwalk, Connecticut, and was painted by artist Justin Gruelle, circa 1935. Image courtesy of the Norwalk Transit Department and the Living New Deal.)

Public Works of Art Project (PWAP):

Between 1933 and 1934, in Region 1 of the PWAP (Connecticut and the other New England states), unemployed artists were paid to create 22 sculptures, 80 water color paintings, 150 oil paintings, 490 poster panels, 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. 7)

National Youth Administration (NYA):

During academic year 1939-1940, 143 schools and colleges in Connecticut were participating in the NYA program, employing about 3,000 students each month.

During any given month of fiscal year 1942, there were about 2,000 young Connecticut 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)

(This young man is working in a defense industry factory in Bantam, Connecticut, in 1942. He received vocational training in the CCC and the NYA. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Post Offices:

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

Works Progress Administration (WPA):

Between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers in Connecticut produced 2.2 million articles of clothing; served 1.9 million school lunches; created or improved 4,800 miles of roads; built or improved 317 bridges & viaducts; installed or improved 3,600 culverts; engaged in 424 projects to build, repair, or improve schools; created or improved 157 parks; installed 262 miles of new storm & sanitary sewer lines; constructed 84,000 linear feet of new airport & airfield runway; and more.

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

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

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