Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Emergency Clothes

(A set of infant clothes made by workers in the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) in Illinois, ca. 1934-35. Photo from a FERA report.)

Between 1934 and 1935, formerly-unemployed workers, now in the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), produced over 16 million items of clothing for low-income Americans. FERA noted that "in every plant there were women who previous to the depression were affluent and living a full life surrounded by more than the usual luxuries, with maids, cars, summer homes, etc. Others had through years of thrift felt secure because of sizable nest eggs in some of our banks, but the banks collapsed and these people were without means [see special note on collapsing banks below]" (The Emergency Work Relief Program of the FERA, 1935, p. 63).
The FERA said of its clothing work, "Huge as the volume of production became, it was still far from supplying all the clothing needs of the millions on the relief rolls..." (ibid., p. 62). The WPA picked up where the FERA left off and, between 1935 and 1943, produced 382 million more articles of clothing (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1946, p. 134). Also, workers in the National Youth Administration created 11 million articles of clothing (Final Report of the National Youth Administration, 1944, p. 146). And Lord knows how many garments the Civil Works Administration produced before the Work Division of FERA took over its work. However, just the WPA, NYA, and FERA totals are well over 400 million.  

Note on collapsing banks: Before New Deal policymakers created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), many Americans lost their life savings when a bank collapsed. Today, many conservative politicians want to undo the New Deal entirely, sending us back to those days. Bankrolled by Wall Street, they are eager to privatize gains for the big banks, but socialize the losses onto the rest of us. The idea of the federal government doing anything to protect Americans from economic downturns, banking incompetence, or white collar crime is repellent to them - which is why they also want to get rid of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, even though the Bureau has saved American consumers billions of dollars by cracking down on greedy and illegal banking practices. (Many of these same politicians also want to repeal laws designed to catch super-wealthy tax evaders, in return for campaign contributions from the super-wealthy who will benefit from such repeals.)

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