Friday, January 22, 2016

A New Deal for Michigan

("Flint Landscape," an oil painting by John Davies (1901-1965), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

Decades of trickle-down economics, and recent austerity, have not been kind to Michigan. Its schools are crumbling and, as of 2012, it had the "second-worst roads and bridges in the nation." Also, in the city of Flint, children have been poisoned by lead in their drinking water--due in part to old pipes--and their parents are being billed for it. Furthermore, in 2014, Detroit shut off water to low-income residents who could not afford to pay their ever-rising water bills but, interestingly, it did not shut off water for businesses that owed millions.

With respect to infrastructure generally, an executive for a trade group in Michigan said, "But no one can really figure out where we go in finding solutions." I have a suggestion where to go: The New Deal.

Let's look at some of the things the New Deal did for the Wolverine State back in the 1930s and 40s...

Civil Works Administration (CWA):

In January of 1934, there were 176,000 Michigan residents, formerly unemployed, working in the CWA. They built or repaired schools, roads, bridges, water lines, and more.

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

Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA):

In February of 1935, 3,720 college students in Michigan 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 $116 million to Michigan for relief efforts (about $2 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)

("Production," a mural study for the Buchannon, Michigan Post Office, by Gertrude Goodrich (1914-?), created while she was in, or competing for, a New Deal Section of Fine Arts commission, in 1941. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)  

Public Works Administration (PWA):

By 1939, the PWA had contributed $62 million in funding towards 461 infrastructure projects in Michigan (not including federal projects). In today's dollars, that's about $1 billion.

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

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC):

Between 1933 and 1942, nearly 103,000 Michigan men were employed in the CCC. This included about 94,500 junior and veteran enrollees and 8,300 support staff. Among their many accomplishments were the planting of 485 million trees (perhaps the most of any state) and the stocking of 156 million fish.

(Source: Perry H. Merrill, "Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942," 1981, pp. 158-159)

("Way of Life," a mural study for the Chelsea, Michigan Post Office, by George Harold Fisher, (1895-1986), created while he was in, or competing for, a New Deal Section of Fine Arts commission, in 1938. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.) 

Public Works of Art Project (PWAP):

Between 1933 and 1934, in Region 9 of the PWAP (Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Michigan), unemployed artists were paid to create 70 sculptures, 159 water color paintings, 161 murals, 210 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, 850 schools and colleges in Michigan were participating in the NYA program, employing about 16,000 students each month.

During any given month of fiscal year 1942, there were about 8,000 young Michigan men & women employed 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)

("Settlers," a mural study for the East Detroit, Michigan Post Office, by Frank Cassara (1913-?), created while he was in, or competing for, a New Deal Section of Fine Arts commission, ca. 1939-1941. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

Post Offices:

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

Works Progress Administration (WPA):

Between 1935 and 1943, WPA workers in Michigan produced 5.9 million articles of clothing; served 28 million school lunches; created or improved 22,000 miles of roads; built or improved 700 bridges & viaducts; installed or improved 64,000 culverts; engaged in nearly 1,200 projects to build, repair, or improve schools; created or improved 326 parks; installed 700 miles of new water lines; constructed 153,000 linear feet of new airport & airfield runway; and more.

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

(A WPA poster, created by artist Maurice Merlin between 1941 and 1943. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation (FSCC): 

During calendar year 1936, the FSCC distributed 1.1 million pounds of canned beef to low-income residents of Michigan, 278,000 pounds of evaporated milk, 200,000 pounds of enriched oat cereal, 4.7 million pounds of fresh apples, 1.2 million pounds of citrus fruit, 100,000 pounds of walnuts, and much more.

In 1940, the FSCC delivered 3.7 million pounds of food for Michigan schoolchildren.

(Sources: (1) Report of the Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation for the Calendar Year 1936, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1937. p. 13. (2) Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation, Report of the Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation for the Fiscal Year 1940, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1940, p. 8)

(A store in Detroit lets WPA workers know that their credit "Is Good Here." 1942 photo, courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

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