Tuesday, March 31, 2015

WPA Theatre: "Processional"


Above: The "Processional" was a play written by John Howard Lawson, ca. 1924-1925, and was performed by WPA actors in 1937. Lawson was a member of the "Hollywood Ten," a group of men sent to prison in 1950 for failing to give information to a witch hunting Congressional committee. The men refused to answer questions about their possible communist affiliation and, after serving their prison sentences, were largely blacklisted from Hollywood. WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Monday, March 30, 2015

A New Deal for West Virginia

(Eleanor Roosevelt speaks at a 2013 New Deal Festival in Arthurdale, West Virginia, while FDR surveys the crowd. Photo by Brent McKee.)

A few months ago, Slate staff writer Betsy Woodruff reported that West Virginia, before turning Republican, had a "deep-seated, long-lasting loyalty to the party of FDR...Eleanor Roosevelt also won affection for helping start Arthurdale, a planned community for economically disadvantaged West Virginians."

West Virginia had good reason to appreciate its New Deal legacy. Here are some interesting New Deal facts & figures for the Mountain State...

Civil Works Administration (CWA):

In January of 1934, there were 85,000 West Virginians 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, over 55,000 West Virginia men were employed in the CCC. This included about 50,400 junior and veteran enrollees and 4,700 staff. Among their many accomplishments were the planting of 27 million trees and the stocking of 4.4 million fish.

(Source: Perry H. Merrill, "Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942," 1981, p. 188)

(This cabin represents just a small fraction of the work that the Civilian Conservation Corps did at Lost River State Park, in eastern West Virginia. Photo by Brent McKee.)

  (Speaking with a CCC veteran who worked at Lost River State Park. Photo from personal collection, taken by a newspaper photographer in 2011.) 

Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA):

In February of 1935, 1,225 college students in West Virginia 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 $46 million to West Virginia for relief efforts (about $783 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)

Public Works Administration (PWA):

By 1939, the PWA had contributed $19.5 million in funding towards 150 infrastructure projects in West Virginia (not including federal projects). In today's dollars, that's about $328 million.

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

(The Tygart River Dam, near Grafton, West Virginia. PWA funds helped construct the dam between 1935 and 1938. Photo by Brent McKee.)

(The West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind, Romney, West Virginia. PWA funds helped construct this elementary school building between 1938 and 1939. It still serves schoolchildren today. Photo by Brent McKee.)

National Youth Administration (NYA):

During academic year 1939-1940, 404 schools and colleges in West Virginia were participating in the NYA program, employing about 7,400 students each month.

During any given month of fiscal year 1942, there were about 5,200 young West Virginia 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)

Post Offices:

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

(The U.S. Treasury built more than just post offices, as this Department of Agriculture Building in Elkins, West Virginia highlights. Photo by Brent McKee.)

 (Cornerstone on the Elkins Department of Agriculture Building, showing a construction date of 1936. Photo by Brent McKee.)

Public Works of Art Project (PWAP):

Between 1933 and 1934, in Region 8 of the PWAP (Pennsylvania and West Virginia), unemployed artists were paid to create 5 bas reliefs, 27 murals, 30 oil paintings, 40 water color 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)

Works Progress Administration (WPA):

Between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers in West Virginia produced 5.2 million articles of clothing; served 29 million school lunches; created or improved 20,500 miles of roads; built or improved 1,700 bridges; installed or improved 30,000 culverts; engaged in 1,600 projects to build, repair, or improve schools; created or improved 158 playgrounds & athletic fields; installed 300 miles of new storm & sewer drains; constructed 28,000 linear feet of new airport & airfield runway; and more.

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

(WPA workers helped construct this school in Circleville, West Virginia, in 1938. Photo by Brent McKee.)

 (WPA workers helped restore Fort Ashby, in Fort Ashby, West Virginia, in 1939. The fort has history dating back before the American Revolution. Photo by Brent McKee.)

 (WPA plaque on the Fort Ashby building. Photo by Brent McKee.) 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

As its infrastructure crumbles, West Virginia embraces anti-infrastructure Republicans

(This is a road in Mineral County, West Virginia - full of potholes, ruptured pavement, and alligator cracking. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, "Driving on roads in need of repair costs West Virginia motorists $583 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $469.29 per motorist." Photo by Brent McKee, 2015.)

  (This is a larger road, a few miles from the road in the first picture. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 12% of West Virgnia's major roads are in poor condition. Photo by Brent McKee, 2015.)

(This is a post office parking lot, a few miles from the two roads above. If you value your car's suspension system, you have to be very careful where you enter and exit. Photo by Brent McKee, 2015.)

(This is a bridge right next to the post office. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, West Virginia has 944 bridges that are structurally deficient. This seems like one of them. Photo by Brent McKee, 2015.)

(This is a rusted & cracked metal connection piece on the bridge. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, West Virginia has 1,570 bridges that are functionally obsolete. I don't know if this is one of them, but that crack can't be a good sign. Photo by Brent McKee, 2015.)

In recent years, West Virginia has changed from a blue state (Democratic) to a red state (Republican) (see, e.g., "Goodbye West Virginia," Slate, October 29, 2014).

Even as a progressive, it's hard for me to blame them. After all, many Democrats (including Obama) have been so cozy with Corporate America, and so easy on white collar crime, that their "middle-class" and "main street" messages have been rendered impotent. Still, it's ironic that West Virginia has embraced a political party that is so anti-infrastructure...at the same time that it could really use some infrastructure assistance. 

When President Obama recently proposed infrastructure upgrades for the nation, funded with taxes on super-wealthy Americans and taxes on multi-billion dollar corporations, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan shut the proposal down, calling it "envy economics." The GOP also blocked Senator Bernie Sanders' attempt to fix America's crumbling infrastructure, sneering "That’s not the way we do it around here." In fact, Republicans have been blocking infrastructure bills for a long time now (see, e.g., "Senate GOP blocks $60B Obama infrastructure plan," USA Today, November 3, 2011). 

In 2014, Time magazine's senior national correspondent, Michael Grunwald, correctly noted that "no matter how much Republicans say they care about infrastructure, they’re not going to accept any infrastructure proposals that come from President Barack Obama...Republicans say nice things about infrastructure but haven’t shown any interest in paying for it. As a result, the nation has failed to take advantage of historically low interest rates to invest more in our overcrowded airports, outdated railways and flimsy bridges."

Indeed, the only type of funding for infrastructure that Republicans will accept are the dozens of regressive taxes, tolls, fees, and fines that are burdening America's shrinking middle-class (and the poor) at the state & local level (see my blog post, "Ten Ways The Political Right Is Vacuuming Money Out Of Your Wallet With Their Trickle-Down Economics. Welcome To 'The Great Right-Wing Revenue Switcheroo.'")

West Virginia may have lost its love for the modern Democratic Party, but it should still remember its "deep-seated, long-lasting loyalty to the party of FDR" (i.e., New Deal Democrats). In my next blog post, I'll highlight what the New Deal did for West Virginia.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

WPA Art Classes

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

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

(A WPA art class in California. The description for this photograph reads, "Clay arts are among the crafts which afford an outlet for adults whose days are buried in the routine of the modern industrial plant." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

(The description for this photo reads, "Sculpturing is lots of fun at the Hudson Guild, one of the 241 art centers in New York where the WPA Federal Art Project holds free classes." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

New Deal policymakers felt that art classes and art projects were a great way to get unemployed artists and teachers back to work, to teach children and adults new skills, and to decorate public places. Today's policymakers? Neh, not so much. For example, K-12 art programs have been cut, or entirely eliminated, all across the nation, in order to preserve tax cuts for the super-wealthy and also to devote additional resources towards mechanized standardized test-taking. 

(See, for example, "Public schools slash arts education and turn to private funding," ThinkProgress, August 5, 2013, "D.C. parents fight arts budget cuts," Washington Examiner, March 30, 2013, and "Conservative Republicans pledge to eliminate cultural funding," Washington Post, January 20, 2011.)

Will American society really be better off if we keep reducing public support for the arts, social studies, and physical education, and instead place more and more emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing-taking? Well, apparently a lot of people think so - because that's exactly what's happening. But that choice has consequences, e.g., bland architecture, a citizenry ignorant of its history, and high levels of childhood obesity. But hey, as long as billionaires can keep adding billions to their personal fortunes, I guess everything is a-ok, right?

Friday, March 27, 2015

A pictorial history of the Rural Electrification Administration - and the resulting New Deal lesson

All images below are from the U.S. Department of Agriculture publication, "Rural Lines – USA: The Story of the Rural Electrification Administration’s First Twenty-five Years, 1935-1960."

Above: Before electric power, life in rural America could be hard. How many of us can imagine what it would be like to wash our clothes on a board? Unfortunately, many private power companies weren't interested in supplying electricity to rural Americans. Other were interested...if the government and the farmers were willing to pay through the nose for it. Other companies felt that American farmers didn't need electricity, so why bother? Is it any wonder that, in 1935, only 11% of American farms had electric power, while citizens in more urbanized areas had been enjoying it for many years?

Above: Where the private power companies hesitated, the New Deal moved ahead aggressively, beginning in 1935 with the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration.

Above: Since the private power companies decided that they weren't going to play ball, New Deal policymakers decided to engage rural Americans more directly (through "co-ops") with long-term loans set at reasonable interest rates (i.e., not the loan shark interest rates that we see today with credit card and payday lending companies). Even better, individuals would not be personally liable for loan defaults, so there would be no predatory debt collectors knocking on the farm house door if things went sour (the electric power materials that had been bought and constructed would be the collateral).

Above: And so the work got started.

Above: Between 1935 and 1943, some of the prime years of the New Deal, nearly 400,000 miles of power lines were put up.

Above: Back in those days, they did whatever it took to get the job done.

Above: Once a home was hooked up to electricity, people could enjoy many new things; and also many old things a lot better. This man is enjoying his radio.

Above: A farmer works on his electric motor. By 1960, the Rural Electrification Administration had helped the percentage of American farms with electric power rise from 11% to 97%. New Deal policymakers and rural Americans had worked together to electrify the nation.

Today, many people say "The New Deal didn't work! It was a mistake!" They say this because wealthy self-interested people like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Rupert Murdoch, and the Koch brothers have convinced them that the government is always wrong (except when it bombs other countries, of course). But if Americans stopped listening to these people, and did real research, they would discover that almost everything they've been told are lies designed to excuse usury, cuts to education, stagnant wages, lack of adequate health care, crumbling infrastructure, extreme wealth inequality, record levels of child homelessness, rich Americans hiding money in foreign bank accounts, financial fraud, and our world-leading prison population.

The success of the Rural Electrification Administration is just one of the many stories about how a federal government that focuses on helping the middle-class & poor, instead of pampering the super-wealthy, can make incredible things happen. Other New Deal examples include the CCC's development of hundreds of state parks, the WPA's modernization of our infrastructure, Social Security's mitigation of old-age poverty, FDIC's protection of bank deposits, TVA's supply of massive amounts of power, PWA-built ships that helped us win World War II, and the list goes on and on.

And make no mistake about it, our collective ignorance of American history has real consequences. For example, Americans pay more for Internet service than other developed countries but receive less adequate service. Further, as if this were not bad enough, some corporate-bought governments have made it illegal for local communities to provide themselves with better Internet service.

And so this is what happens when voters pay more attention to self-interested millionaires & billionaires, and not to the history of good government policies like the New Deal and the Rural Electrification Administration.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

New Deal Democrats vs. Today's Democrats

(A National Youth Administration (NYA) trainee in Washington, D.C., 1943. New Deal policymakers offered job and training opportunities to millions of un- and under-employed Americans in programs like the NYA, CCC, and WPA. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

New Deal Democrats weren't afraid to take on the super-wealthy, and they weren't afraid to create bold policies that helped the non-wealthy. For example, they created the Securities & Exchange Commission to police fraud on the stock market and they created the Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Youth Administration to hire millions of young men and women who needed jobs.

Today's Democrats? They're a different breed altogether. Collectively, they're weak and paid-off by the super-wealthy - and here's the proof:

When U.S. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) pushed for a windfall tax on Wall Street executives a few years ago--after they received gargantuan bonuses thanks to gargantuan public money bailouts--he said, "I couldn't even get a vote. And it wasn't because of the Republicans. I mean they obviously weren't going to vote for it. But I got so much froth from Democrats saying that any vote like that was going to screw up fundraising."

Also, when U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced legislation in 2011 to create a new WPA (to address the nation's unemployment and infrastructure problems) he received little support from his fellow Democrats and the bill eventually died in committee. I think we can safely assume that a new WPA would have also "screwed up fundraising," since Corporate America relies upon a large pool of desperate and traumatized Americans to keep wages low. In other words, Corporate America would not have appreciated a new WPA program that offered jobs, training, or hope to those very same desperate and traumatized people.

There are powerful exceptions to the trend of Democrats becoming weak and subservient to Wall Street but, by and large, the party has betrayed it's New Deal legacy. As author and journalist David Paul Kuhn wrote, "Webb's one of the last FDR Democrats."

So, as the middle-class shrinks, and as older Americans face a looming poverty crisis, and as our children face record homelessness, we might want to ask ourselves, "What are the consequences of a Democratic Party that has betrayed the New Deal for campaign cash, and thus watered down its agenda to placate the super-wealthy?"

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Who will be the next Plutocrat of the United States?

(U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

(Former First Lady and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

It's quite likely that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party's nominee for president, despite the fact that some well-heeled progressive backers are wary of her. She'll get enough support from the powers-that-be in the Democratic Party, and enough money from the big banks, to thwart any progressive movement to hold her back.

And we now know that U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is running for president too. Not every Republican is inspired by Cruz of course. For example, Congressman Peter King (R-NY) said this of Cruz's intent to become president: "Shutting down the federal government and reading Dr. Seuss on the Senate floor are the marks of a carnival barker not the leader of the free world."

Still, it's quite possible (perhaps likely) that we will be cursed with a Cruz vs. Clinton race. And the only Americans who will truly benefit from this will be stand-up comedians.    

Cruz routinely receives campaign cash through organizations like Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse Group, and Koch Industries. 

Clinton routinely receives campaign cash through organizations like Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase.

Many of the organizations generating campaign cash for Cruz and Clinton have engaged in wide-scale fraud, have polluted the environment, have helped wealthy Americans illegally evade taxes, have sent debt collectors to prey upon struggling Americans, and so on. In sum, they are the major reason why "The middle class has seen its wages change little since the turn of the millennium, while high-earning individuals keep making more and more each year" ("The Middle Class Has Gotten Smaller In Every State Since 2000," Huffington Post, March 19, 2015).

And yet, if Cruz and Clinton are indeed our two final candidates, millions of middle and low-income Americans--the very people who are harmed by the Cruz and Clinton funders--will vote for them. They'll vote for them, perhaps, because Cruz doesn't like gay marriage, or because Clinton is the lesser of two evils and/or has a name they're familiar & comfortable with. In any event, neither Cruz nor Clinton will work very hard for the middle-class and poor because they'll be too busy catering to their super-wealthy backers - backers who don't give a damn about struggling Americans (except for how much additional cash they can wring from their economically battered hides).

This is insanity, and yet this is reality. And so, the question is not who will be the next President of the United State; the question is: Who will be the next Plutocrat of the United States? 

Let's title the job and the outcome accurately.



Above: In this audio, we hear FDR's opinion of organized money in politics. The super-wealthy class was very upset with FDR for creating policies that hindered their ability to do whatever pleased them (e.g., fraud, insider trading, child labor, and the creation of dangerous workplaces), and also for creating policies that helped struggling Americans (e.g., work programs for the unemployed, Social Security, energy for rural Americans, and FDIC protection for the bank accounts of the non-wealthy). Today, we see the same phenomenon, where many (not all) in the super-wealthy class despise any government program that helps the less-fortunate. They pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the campaigns of politicians who are working towards the elimination of Medicaid, Social Security, unemployment insurance, SNAP (food stamps), public education, and so on. They are doing this for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to keep their tax rates low and to maintain a steady pool of desperate, financially terrified workers willing to work for pathetic wages (lower wages = higher investment returns for the super-wealthy). Pay close attention to the last four words in the audio above. They are the greatest words ever spoken by a president, and words we should all take to heart. Because as long as we submit, for fear of our protests being labeled "radical," "ranting," "immature," "socialism," or "class warfare," the longer (and more forcefully) we will be run into the ground by those with great power and wealth. We're already in a class war - we just need to recognize it.

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.)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

WPA Fruits & Vegetables

Above: WPA poster created in New York City, ca. 1936-1941. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Above: The description for this 1938 photo reads, "WPA Hot School Lunch Project--School lunches are prepared and distributed by trucks for undernourished children to schools in the District of Columbia. Photo shows scene at a Municipal Market. Fruits and vegetables for this Hot School Lunch Project are obtained through markets, the same as any large restaurant or hotel. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: The description for this undated photo reads, "Three WPA gardening projects in Denver, Pueblo and Greeley will produce approximately 665 tons of vegetables for distribution to indigent families receiving direct relief. A million cans of vegetables grown and processed by WPA workers will be distributed in these three cities under the supervision of the State Department of Public Welfare and county government. Shot shows one of the gardens from which the vegetables are grown. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

FDIC's reduction in bank failures vs. trickle-down economic's INCREASE in bank failures

(During the roaring twenties and the early years of the Great Depression bank failures were routine occurrences. After FDIC was created in late 1933, not so much. Image courtesy of FDIC.)

Before FDIC was created Americans routinely lost their bank deposits when banks failed. For example, between 1930 and 1933, 9,000 banks failed and depositors lost $1.3 billion (about $23 billion in today's dollars). See The FDIC: A History of Confidence and Stability.  

FDIC provides a stable banking system by requiring banks to be insured. This not only protects depositors but also prevents "bank runs" (mass withdraws of money due to panic). FDIC is one of the most successful New Deal creations: "Since the start of FDIC insurance on January 1, 1934, no depositor has lost a single cent of insured funds as a result of a failure" (see here).

Bank failures by time period:

1921-1929 ("The Roaring Twenties"): 5,711 (hundreds every year, not just 1929)

1930-1933 (The Great Depression): 9,096

1934-1943 (New Deal Years): 355

1944-1949 (FDIC and other regulations firmly in place): 16

1950-1959: 26

1960-1969: 44

1970-1979: 72

1980-1989 (Trickle-down economics & de-regulation): 2,005

1990-1999 (After shaky start, some stability returns): 923

2000-2009: 210

2010-2014 (Great Recession): 339



(In the video above, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren explains to a skeptical group how financial regulations created during the New Deal era facilitated many decades of stable banking in the U.S. Included is excellent commentary by Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks. It is clear from this video that many commentators, like those Warren is speaking to, have very little understanding of our banking history - yet, they have the public's ear and trust. Amazing. Original YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTWfa-iO9Nc.)

FDIC has provided stability for our banking system, even when our economy has suffered from fraud (the recent recession) and trickle-down economics (i.e., massive tax cuts for the rich, financial de-regulation, and austerity that primarily preys upon the finances of the middle-class & poor).

It will only be a matter of time before Republican and Libertarian politicians try to eliminate FDIC in their quest for an economy with absolutely no regulations (their Ayn Rand utopia), as well as to satisfy their desire to eliminate every government program that assists the non-wealthy. When that day comes, next year or 50 years from now, Americans will once again lose their money when fraudulent & incompetent banks fail. And, unaware of their New Deal history, they will throw up their hands and say, "What happened?", just as Alan Greenspan (a major Ayn Rand devotee) said of the massive mortgage & securities fraud that occurred after years of weakened regulatory oversight, "A critical pillar to market competition and free markets did break down. I still do not fully understand why it happened."

No Mr. Greenspan, you certainly don't.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Index of American Design

(Men and women in the WPA, working on the Index of American Design in Coral Gables, Florida, 1940. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

Monday, March 16, 2015

A New Deal for Hawaii

(The state seal of Hawaii, image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Some New Deal facts & figures for the Aloha State...

Public Works Administration (PWA):

By 1939, the PWA had contributed $4.8 million in funding towards 57 infrastructure projects in Hawaii. In today's dollars, that's about $81 million. Three of the these were large waterworks projects at Honolulu, Kauai, and Hilo.

(Sources: "America Builds: The Record of PWA," 1939, p. 285; Work Progress Administration, "Report on Progress of Works Program," October 15, 1936 edition)

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC):

Yearly CCC enrollment in Hawaii seems to have averaged around 1,000 to 1,500 men.  Between March 1934 and December 1941, CCC enrollees planted 11.7 million trees in Hawaii; built or maintained 50 miles of firebreaks; created 516 miles of truck, horse, and foot trails; and more.

In recalling the food while in the CCC, one enrollee stated "We had good food. No complaints…We had poi once in a while. We had all kind of food. And we had a Chinese cook. Once in while he used to make Chinese food, but the food was really good, for me...I guess at times, we have rice and maybe stew, or other kind of good meals" (see page 23 of second source below).    

(Sources: Perry H. Merrill, "Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942," 1981, p. 32; Kathryn Ladoulis Urban and Stanley Solamillo, "Civilian Conservation Corps In Hawai`i: Oral Histories of the Haleakalā Camp, Maui," 2011, pp. 23 & 44; Works Progress Administration, "Report on Progress of Works Program," June 30, 1937 edition, pp. 97-99)  

(A lava tube at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. To read about the activities of the CCC at the park, see "Civilian Conservation Corps at HAVO." Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

(CCC workers on a water & soil conservation project in Hawaii. Photo courtesy of the Hawaii State Archives.)

(A CCC camp in Hawaii. Photo courtesy of the Hawaii State Archives.)

(CCC workers at Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui. To read fascinating oral histories of the workers, and learn more information about the CCC in Hawaii, e.g., camp locations, click here. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.) 

(The CCC camp at Haleakala National Park. The National Park service states, "Here at Haleakalā National Park the CCC was engaged in a variety of projects. CCC enrollees removed invasive plants and feral animals such as pigs and goats, constructed the White Hill, Sliding Sands and Halemau'u trails, and built some of the frontcountry structures still used by park employees today." Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.)

Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA):

In February of 1935, 134 college students at the University of Hawaii 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 $7.4 million to Hawaii for relief efforts (about $126 million in today's dollars). These efforts likely included direct 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)

National Youth Administration (NYA):

During academic year 1939-1940, 31 schools and the University of Hawaii were participating in the NYA program, employing 821 students.

During any given month of fiscal year 1942, there were about 296 young men and women working in the NYA's out-of-school work program in Hawaii.

A high school student on the island of Maui described the importance of the NYA program: "A girl of 16 summers, I am of Oriental ancestry. I come from a large family and have six sturdy brothers. We live on a two acre taro farm in a little village called Waihee...Due to the fact that all seven are attending school there was some doubt whether or not I would be able to continue high school and go on to college as I have always wanted to do. The NYA has changed the situation. It has enabled me to see a bright future."

(Sources: Federal Security Agency - War Manpower Commission, "Final Report of the National Youth Administration, Fiscal Years 1936-1943," 1944, pp. 246-247, 254; "National Youth Administration in Hawaii," booklet created by the NYA and published by the Printing Department of McKinley High School, Honolulu, 1938, pp. 19-20)

(Hawaii schools participating in the NYA program. Image from the booklet "National Youth Administration in Hawaii."

("NYA students at work at Farrington High School," Honolulu. Photo from the booklet "National Youth Administration in Hawaii.")

 ("University of Hawaii NYA student working in chemistry laboratory," Honolulu.
Photo from the booklet "National Youth Administration in Hawaii.")

 ("Agriculture Building built by the Maui High School Shop and NYA boys."
Photo from the booklet "National Youth Administration in Hawaii.")

Post Offices:

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

Works Progress Administration (WPA):

Interesting facts and figures about the WPA in Hawaii...

--> During the first four fiscal years (1936 - 1939) WPA laborers in Hawaii worked on 40 projects to build, repair, or improve schools; 139 projects to build, repair, or improve other public buildings; created or improved 77 miles of roadway; constructed or repaired 21 bridges; installed or repaired 100 culverts; made or improved 7 miles of sidewalks; participated in 13 projects to create or improve parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields; installed or improved 49 miles of water lines; renovated about 67,500 books; and more.

--> WPA employment in Hawaii peaked in December of 1936, with about 4,400 men and women on the payrolls.

--> Between September of 1936 and June of 1941 the average number of Hawaii residents working in the WPA was about 2,500. After June 1941, employment dropped off sharply. In fact, between December of 1941 and March of 1943 there were only about 5 people working in the Hawaii WPA, probably performing administrative functions. However, even though there were less WPA workers (i.e, the formerly jobless) on the WPA payroll, WPA funds were still being utilized on a variety of projects, especially national defense-related projects. As Dr. Jason Scott Smith points out, "As it turned to wartime public works, the WPA increasingly discarded its primary method of construction--the "force account," whereby people were put to work directly in order to reduce unemployment--in favor of cost-plus contracting, which emphasized timely production and increasingly turned to private contractors in order to get the job done" (see source list below). This explains why the WPA payroll dropped so sharply even as WPA money continued to fund projects in Hawaii (e.g., air field & military base improvements).

--> The WPA made substantial improvements to a number of airfields, including Hilo Airport, John Rodgers Airport (present-day Honolulu International Airport), Suiter Field (present-day Upolu Airport, near Kona on the Big Island), and Port Allen Airport (on the island of Kauai). The WPA also provided substantial funding for the creation of the Puunene Airport on the island of Maui (now part of the Maui Raceway Park).

(The description for this photograph reads, "Inter-Island Sikorsky being fueled by a Standard Oil truck at John Rodgers Airport, 1937." John Rodgers Airport is now Honolulu International Airport. Between 1935 and 1937, the WPA extended the runways at the airport. Photo courtesy of the State of Hawaii Department of Transportation, Airports Division.)    

--> Total funds expended on WPA projects in Hawaii (i.e., WPA funds + sponsor funds) was $13.9 million. That's about $234 million in today's dollars.

--> Out of the total WPA funding (again, WPA + sponsor), about 46% went towards roadwork, 24% towards work on public buildings, 12% towards airport work, and the remaining 18% towards a variety of other projects.

--> Funding for a landing field on Howland Island--1,700 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii--most likely came from the Hawaii WPA office in Honolulu. The landing field was to be used as a possible trans-Pacific refueling station and also for Amelia Earhart's 1937 attempt to fly around the world (Earhart and her navigator disappeared before reaching Howland Island).

--> In the June 30, 1941 edition of the Federal Works Agency's Report on Progress of the WPA Program (p. 81), we are told that among the WPA's publications are "guides for most of the states and for Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico under the American Guide series..." However, while there are indeed guides to Alaska and Puerto Rico, there doesn't appear to be one for Hawaii. This could have been a mistake by the authors of the report, or it could indicate that a guide was intended for Hawaii but was never completed. If the latter, the materials for the guide could be stored away in a dusty corner of an archives. Interestingly, in 2009 author Pat Willard published America Eats! by using materials collected by the WPA writer's program - materials that were intended for a book. The book was never completed and the materials were stored away in various archives across the nation (see "'America Eats': A Hidden Archives from the 1930s," NPR, November 19, 2004). This raises the interesting question: Could there be materials for a Guide to the Aloha State (or, "Aloha Territory" for history sticklers) buried somewhere in the National Archives, Hawaii State Archives, a warehouse, or even someone's attic? Perhaps we'll never know...        

(Sources: State of Hawaii Department of Transportation, Airports Division, "Chronology of Aviation in Hawaii, 1930-1939";  Federal Works Agency, "Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43," 1946; Federal Works Agency, "Report on Progress of the WPA Program," June 30, 1939, June 30, 1940, and June 30, 1941 editions; “Pacific Remote Island Area (PRIA),” Pacific Island Benthic Habitat Mapping Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa; Ric Gillespie, "Finding Amelia: The True Story of the Earhart Disappearance," Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2006, pp. 8-18; Jason Scott Smith, "Building New Deal Liberalism: The Political Economy of Public Works, 1933-1956, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 194)

(The description for this photograph reads, "Archives staff and WPA workers on steps of old Archives building." Across the U.S. and its territories, the WPA assisted museums, libraries, and archives. Photo courtesy of the Hawaii State Archives.)