Thursday, June 11, 2015

A New Deal for Florida

(This clock tower at Daytona Beach, Florida was built by the WPA, circa 1936-1938. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Lately, low income residents of Florida have been hit hard by their mean-spirited government. For example, the Florida legislature has reduced their unemployment benefits and rejected federal money that would have helped them acquire health insurance. And, with Congress now controlled by Republicans, low income Floridians can expect even more punishment over the next several years (e.g, federal cuts to food assistance).

It doesn't have to be this way, of course. For example, in the 1930s and early 1940s, when Floridians were struggling through the Great Depression, New Deal policymakers (and the officials they worked with at the state & local level) assisted the citizens of Florida with jobs, education, and training opportunities. In return, these citizens built, repaired, and improved the state's infrastructure. 

Consider these New Deal facts & figures for the Sunshine State...

Civil Works Administration (CWA):

In January of 1934, there were 93,000 Floridians working in the CWA, building or repairing schools, roads, bridges, and more.

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

(CWA workers built this civic center on St. Augustine, Florida, circa 1933-34. Photo courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA):

In February of 1935, 774 college students in Florida 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 $50 million to Florida for relief efforts (about $851 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)

(A bridge in Miami, built with funds from FERA, 1935. Photo courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Public Works Administration (PWA):

By 1939, the PWA had contributed $32 million in funding towards 232 infrastructure projects in Florida (not including federal projects). In today's dollars, that's about $538 million.

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

(The Overseas Highway, running through the Florida Keys, was built with the assistance of a $3.6 million loan from the PWA (about $61 million in today's dollars). Photo courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC):

Between 1933 and 1942, about 49,000 men in Florida were employed in the CCC. This included about 45,900 junior and veteran enrollees, 100 Indians, and 3,000 staff. Among their many accomplishments were the planting of 19 million trees and the building of 2,700 bridges of various types (e.g., foot and vehicle bridges in state parks).

(Source: Perry H. Merrill, "Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942," 1981, pp. 120-122)

(These army officers supervised and trained CCC enrollees in Bronson, Florida, 1933. Photo courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

National Youth Administration (NYA):

During academic year 1939-1940, 676 schools and colleges in Florida were participating in the NYA program, employing about 5,300 students each month.

During any given month of fiscal year 1942, there were about 4,000 young Florida 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)

(These NYA men are learning how to build boats at Camp Roosevelt in Ocala, Florida, 1941. Photo courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Public Works of Art Project (PWAP):

Between 1933 and 1934, in Region 5 of the PWAP (Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina), unemployed artists were paid to create 13 murals, 17 sculptures, 25 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. 7)

Post Offices:

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

(This post office mural was painted by Stevan Dohanos in 1940, for a post office in West Palm Beach. Image courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Works Progress Administration (WPA):

Between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers in Florida produced 10 million articles of clothing; served 25 million school lunches; created or improved 7,300 miles of roads; built or improved 1,500 bridges & viaducts; installed or improved 7,000 culverts; engaged in 566 projects to build, repair, or improve schools; created or improved 155 parks; installed 264 miles of new water lines; constructed 413,000 linear feet of new airport & airfield runway (the most runway work in the country); and more.

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

(Lila Sinclair working on a painting in Wauchula, Florida, circa 1935. In the April 26, 1937 edition of the Evening Independent newspaper, Sinclair is described as a WPA art teacher who studied at the Art Institute in Chicago and taught in the public schools of Florida. It's likely that she was one of the millions of Americans who lost their jobs during the Great Depression but were given employment opportunities in the WPA. All across the nation, the WPA utilized the talents of people like Lila Sinclair to offer free art classes to the public. Photo courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

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