Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A WPA Cabin...Still Serving the Community!

This cabin was built by the WPA in 1940. It is located in Pocomoke City, Maryland, between the Winter Quarters Municipal Golf Course and the Pocomoke River. Today, "Winter Quarters Log Cabin" is used for events like wedding receptions and business meetings. Pocomoke City describes & markets the cabin in the following way:

"Our rustic log cabin was built in the 1940's offers a full kitchen, handicap accessibility, ample parking and easy access from highway Rt 13 & Rt 113.  The interior features a beautiful fireplace and tables/chairs for up to 50 persons.  The log cabin faces the unspoiled Pocomoke River with adjacent public docks and a boat ramp. There are several motels and restaurants nearby, and local caterers can provide meals if requested.  Bring your boat and your clubs and enjoy the perfect getaway for your retreat or conference." (See webpage here)

Once again we see how a creation of the WPA continues to be utilized and enjoyed today.

(Photo by Brent McKee)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Drug Testing Unemployed Kansans

Huffington Post reporters John Celock and Arthur Delaney report that “Lawmakers seeking to abolish income taxes and stymie unions in Kansas think it might also be worthwhile to make the poor and unemployed pee in cups to prove they’re not wasting taxpayer money on drugs.” (See article here)

Unfortunately, Congress has given its blessing to the concept of drug testing the unemployed, at least to a degree (see the article for more details).

During the New Deal, when Kansas and the federal government focused on creating work opportunities for the jobless—instead of casting them as potential drug abusers—there were positive results (to say the least): Unemployed men hired into the CCC planted millions of trees in Kansas and worked the land with check dams, contour plowing, and planting to stop sheet & gully erosion. Jobless Kansans hired into the WPA, meanwhile, created about 5.6 million articles of clothing for low-income families & individuals, served over 13 million lunches to schoolchildren, worked on 20,000 miles of road, and built or improved 232 playgrounds & athletic fields. And these are just some of the accomplishments of New Deal work & building programs in Kansas, from 1933 to 1943.

What a shame that we seem to have learned nothing from our own nation’s history. Instead of taking pride in, and learning from, what was certainly the most monumental period of work & construction in human history, the best we can come up with these days, apparently, is to subject laid-off workers to the embarrassment of coerced urinalysis. Now that is pathetic. Where is our creativity? Our courage? Our compassion?

(Image above is from the U.S. Geological Survey, courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries. CCC information is from “Roosevelt’s Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942,” by Perry H. Merrill, 1981. WPA information if from the “Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43,” by the Federal Works Agency, 1946.)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

WPA Music for Schoolchildren

 (Click on image to enlarge)

This program shows a WPA orchestra providing music for an elementary school commencement ceremony in Jersey Homesteads, New Jersey, in 1938. Jersey Homesteads--now called Roosevelt--was a New Deal planned community.

All across America, unemployed musicians were offered job opportunities in WPA orchestras. These orchestras provided entertainment for millions of Americans.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

The WPA works on Mercury

While doing some related work at the National Archives, I ran across the following WPA project:

"A Federal non-construction project to revise table of the orbit of the planet Mercury. Work includes revisiting reductions of the observations, including those made at the Naval Observatory and elsewhere from 1890 to 1936; comparing observations with Newcomb’s Tables of Mercury; forming and solving by least squares equations of conditions for corrections to the tables; and combining results with those of a similar discussion of all observations of Mercury before 1890 and used as the basis for the present tables." (National Archives-College Park, Record Group 69, Microfilmed Records of the WPA)

This was obviously a project for unemployed astronomers, mathematicians, or similar folks; showing once again that an effort was made to create useful jobs for every type jobless American.

(Image above is from NASA, at

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Unemployed Nurses, Part 2

A week ago, I blogged about newly graduated & licensed nurses who could not find jobs. According to a survey by the American Society of Registered Nurses, 43% of them had not found a nursing position within 18 months after graduation. (See article here, and my blog post for January 17, 2013)

As I was doing some research at the National Archives, I ran across some very interesting WPA projects.  Here's two of them: "To provide employment for needy registered nurses and needy professional, educational and clerical persons in the operation of a clinic providing free medical services to needy patients suffering from communicable diseases" and "To provide employment for needy pharmacists, nurses, and professional, clerical, and technical persons in the operation of a medical clinic at the Gallinger Municipal Hospital…to provide free medical service to needy patients."

Today, we are doing very little for unemployed nurses.  A lot of them are probably not even eligible for unemployment benefits, or have exhausted whatever benefits they may have been receiving.  Our modern approach to the problem of unemployment is largely an apathetic, or even mean-spirited "Oh well."

But we could be connecting the dots, as the WPA did.  We could be employing these jobless nurses, helping them gain the experience they need to get hired at a hospital or doctor's office and, all the while, provide health services to low-income Americans.  Instead, we have idle nurses and millions of Americans not receiving the health care they need.  As Ben Bernanke recently said: "The conditions now prevailing in the job market represent an enormous waste of human and economic potential."  (See statement here)

I would replace "an enormous waste" with the words "a colossal & criminal waste."

(Image above is a WPA poster, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

New Deal Archaeology Book

Bernard K. Means, who teaches anthropology at Virginia Commonwealth University, has edited (and contributed to) a new book: "Shovel Ready: Archaeology and Roosevelt's New Deal for America."

You can find information about the book on this University Alabama Press web page:,5507.aspx

Hopefully, one day, there will be a book about every type of New Deal project, to counter the arguments that government spending is wasteful and the unemployed are lazy good-for-nothings.

Monday, January 21, 2013

New Deal Boldness & Experimentation

In his second inauguration speech, on Monday, January 21, 2013, President Obama said: "We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect."

On May 22nd, 1932, while gearing up for the presidential race, President Franklin Roosevelt said: "The country needs, and unless I mistake its temper, demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."

Many times, people scold the government for its errors, as if the government should be 100% perfect all the time. I think such unrealistic expectations keep us from trying new things to solve problems, i.e., policy-making is hard in an atmosphere of hyper-criticism.

(FDR quote is in the book "American-Made" by Nick Taylor)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The New Deal helped children with special needs

This elementary school building on the campus of the West Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind, in Romney, West Virginia, was built in 1938-39, with the assistance of funds from the Public Works Administration.  It has been serving children with special needs ever since.

Some people say that the New Deal was a waste of money, or that it didn't work, or that it was "godless communism." Considering the thousands of beneficial New Deal projects that we still utilize today, like this elementary school building, I just don't understand that type of thinking.  

(Photo by Brent McKee)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Wasting Health Care

In the January 14th CNN article, For Nursing Jobs, New Grads Need Not Apply, it is reported that "About 43% of newly licensed RNs still do not have jobs within 18 months after graduation, according to a survey conducted by the American Society of Registered Nurses."

Why is there a problem?  The usual culprits: Too many graduates for too few jobs, employers unwilling to devote any time or effort into job training, and older nurses putting off retirement because of the troubled economy.  Like so many other people & professions, we have filled these hard-working, well-intentioned people with false hope, saddled them with debt, and released them into a job market that actively discriminates against them. A human resources professional is quoted, "We're new grad friendly but with the challenges we face in the hospital world, we often need seasoned nurses. We hire thousands of nurses across the whole system, yet a very small percentage are new grads."  

In a related article, a recent grad & now-licensed nurse states: "Every time I tell people that I am a nurse and looking for a job, they respond by telling me that it is easy for nurses to find jobs because of the nursing shortage. The truth is, new nurses are graduating and struggling to find jobs. I want people to know how bad the situation is for us."

The amazing (outrageous) thing about all this is that so many people don't have affordable access to health care. So, we have a situation where there are licensed nurses who can't find work, and people with health problems who can't access health care.  Are there words to describe such lunacy?

If we had a WPA, these nurses could get at least a basic amount of work and pay. Additionally, they would gain experience while helping lower-income people who have health issues. Why in the world are we wasting health care?

(Image above is a WPA poster, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

New Deal Recreation: A Boon, Not A Boondoggle

In a January 11, 2013 article, Say, What?! Americans Spend More on the Great Outdoors Than on Gasoline: United States’ overlooked economic powerhouse is outdoor recreation, by Allison Fairbrother, it is reported that: "Americans devote more money to enjoying the outdoors than buying gasoline, purchasing pharmaceutical drugs, or owning cars. More than 44 percent of us make outdoor recreation a priority, adding up to an annual economic impact of $646 billion...Outdoor recreation supports 6.1 million jobs and a combined $80 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue."

This reminds me of a story I saw in the Maryland newspaper Cumberland Times-News, highlighting how parks & recreation have boosted the economy of western Maryland, a section of the state that received extensive work from the CCC during the Great Depression (see article here).

A lot of the recreational activities that we enjoy today, which provide the reported economic benefit, are a direct result of New Deal work programs. For example, the CCC helped create or develop hundreds of parks across the country, and the WPA created or improved a multitude of stadiums, fairgrounds, athletic fields, playgrounds, swimming pools, handball courts, tennis courts, ski trails, ski jumps, ice skating areas, and more.  

However, despite America's five-year-long unemployment problem, and despite the clear evidence that public work programs on recreational projects have large & lasting economic benefit, Ms. Fairbrother points out that nonsensical austerity measures seem to be in the forefront of current political thinking: "Unfortunately, Congress doesn’t seem to be taking the hint. Devastating budget cuts loom for the nation’s 398 national parks, monuments, and historic sites, as well as federal conservation activities and fishery management."

Once again, we could be connecting the dots. We could offer work opportunities for those disenfranchised from the labor market, to create & improve parks & outdoor recreational facilities, which in turn would generate current & future economic benefits.

We could, but of course we won't. And so we need to ask ourselves: "Considering the historic & economic evidence, why not?"

(Image above is a WPA poster, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Pink Slip Blues

(Above: A of termination of employment notice issued by the WPA)

When someone gets fired or laid-off we often say, "They got the pink slip."  It's my understanding that this saying comes from the pink notices that the WPA used for ending a worker's employment.  In doing some Internet searches, I found an interesting song by Ida Cox, titled "Pink Slip Blues." Here are the lyrics:

One day every week, I prop myself at my front door
One day every week, I prop myself at my front door
And the police force couldn't move me 'fore that mail man blow

'Twas a little white paper Uncle Sam had done addressed to me
'Twas a little white paper Uncle Sam had done addressed to me
It meant one more week, one week of sweet prosperity

But bad news got to spreading, and my poor hair started turning grey
But bad news got to spreading, and my poor hair started turning grey
Cause Uncle Sam started chopping, cutting thousands off the W.P.A.

Just a little pink slip, in a long white envelope
Just a little pink slip, in a long white envelope
Was the end of my road, was the last ray of my only hope

After four long years, Uncle Sam done put me on the shelf
After four long years, Uncle Sam done put me on the shelf
Cause that little pink slip means you got to go for yourself

Monday, January 14, 2013

Need Water? Let the WPA Help With That

According to this Reuters article, "U.S. farmers, squeezed by high prices for corn and other fodder on one hand, and drought that has parched pastureland on the other, are cutting back their herds in a bid to survive. The U.S. cattle herd has shrunk to 91 million animals, the smallest in 60 years."

One proposal to the problem of drought, that I have heard a few times, is an aqueduct system that could transport water from areas where there is too much (e.g., flood prone areas) to areas where there is too little. This would be an excellent infrastructure project for America. The long-term unemployed could be offered opportunities to train and work on the development of such a water transportation network.

Are we going to do this? Of course not. We will simply let droughts and wild fires wreak havoc, and let the long-term unemployed live in hopelessness. The question is: Why?

(Image above is a WPA poster, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Promote the General Welfare, or Icy Indifference?

"Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference." --FDR, 1936, Democratic Re-nomination Convention, Philadelphia.

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." --Preamble to the U.S. Constitution

"The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States..." --Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution

"If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks."                                                                    
--Deuteronomy 15:7, Bible

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Final Resting Place

The WPA built or improved cemeteries all across America. In the above black & white photo, WPA workers are erecting a flagpole at Baltimore National Cemetery. The color photo shows the very same flagpole today, about 75 years later.

To learn more about Baltimore National Cemetery--a final resting place for our veterans--as well as the WPA's role in creating it, see the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, at

(Black & white photo taken by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives. Color photo by Brent McKee)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Health Problems? Let the New Deal Help!

In a January 9, 2013 news article, a health care report from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine was highlighted.  The report stated "The United States is among the wealthiest nations in the world, but it is far from the healthiest. Although life expectancy and survival rates in the United States have improved dramatically over the past century, Americans live shorter lives and experience more injuries and illnesses than people in other high-income countries." (See article here)

During the New Deal era, there were several programs that improved the health of Americans.  For example, the Public Works Administration funded the construction of new hospitals, the Civilian Conservation Corps engaged in mosquito control, and the Works Progress Administration operated health clinics & mobile health services.

Today, we have a large population of unemployed people and several national health issues. Additionally, since the American population continues to age, there will be an increased need for healthcare workers in years to come.  A new New Deal could connect all these dots.  It could put people to work, retrain them, offer health services for Americans in need, and bolster America's future.

Of course, we're not going to do any of this. Why?

(Image above is a WPA poster, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The WPA Hired Older Americans

In a few of my blog posts, I've commented on the severe problems that many young adults are facing in the job market.  This problem gets a fair bit of media attention, as it should, but let's not forget that older Americans are also facing tough employment problems, and that age discrimination is probably a factor (see a brief article about age discrimination and unemployment here).

During the Great Depression, the WPA hired many older workers that the private sector did not want.  In fact, the policy of the WPA, as expressed by President Roosevelt in an executive order was that anyone who was "qualified by training and experience to be assigned to work projects shall not be discriminated against on any grounds whatsoever."

Also, in 1939, Congress legislated that "no requirement of eligibility for employment...shall be effective which prohibits employment of persons 65 years of age or over..." in the WPA.

Over the course of 2013, as our political "leaders" mumble and stumble over the unemployment problem (as they have for the past five years) let's not forget that we once had a more logical, compassionate, and beneficial policy response to the issue of joblessness.  That policy was called the Works Progress Administration.

(Quoted material found in The WPA and Federal Relief Policy, by Donald S. Howard, Russell Sage Foundation, 1943, pp. 271-285.  Image above shows an older WPA worker at Curtis Bay Ordinance Depot, Baltimore, Maryland, in 1941, working on military historical records.  Photo by the WPA, provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)      

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Young Adults Without Jobs, Without Hope

A recent article on Huffington Post--"Millennial Unemployment: 2013 Outlook Grim According to Recent Jobs Report"--reports that "The overall unemployment rate for 18 to 29-year olds in December was 11.5 percent, according to the national, non-partisan organization Generation Opportunity, which analyzes the data specifically for that age range."  Additionally, it is highlighted that this does not include about 1.7 million young adults who have given up looking for work altogether, which pushes the rate up to about 16.3%.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently reported that there are about 6.5 million Americans between the ages of 16 and 25 who are neither in school nor working (see article here).

If we keep excluding millions of young Americans from the labor market, and millions are idle, what does this mean for their dignity and their hope?  What does it mean for our economy?  How will it impact our already world-leading incarceration rate?

Do we even care?  As our leaders discuss trillion dollar coins, fiscal cliffs, and debt ceilings, what is to become of young people who simply want a job, and some hope that one day they can have a decent middle-class life?

Where is the Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Youth Administration, to help young adults get a start?

We say, "United We Stand."  But do we mean it?

(Image above is a WPA poster, provided courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Forest, Courtesy of the CCC

The CCC performed extensive work in Cedarville State Forest, in southern Maryland. Today, visitors to the park can hike, bike, fish, hunt, and camp. This is another example of how past government investment is still benefiting us today.  

(Photo by Brent McKee)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Green New Deal

About a year ago, the Green Party's presidential candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, gave an address regarding a "Green New Deal" that the Green Party planned to implement should they win the White House.  Among other things, Dr. Stein said:

"Our Full Employment Program will directly create 16 million jobs through a community-based direct employment initiative that will be nationally funded, locally controlled, and democratically protected against conflicts of interest and pay-to-play influence peddling. The program will directly create jobs in the public and the private sector. Instead of going to an unemployment office when you can’t find work, you can simply go to the local employment office to find a public sector job."

(, accessed January 5, 2013)

It's a shame that we're stuck in the two party system, because a lot of good ideas--that many Americans would approve of--get ignored.

(Image above is a WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Pangborn Park

WPA workers helped create Pangborn Park, near Hagerstown, Maryland.  Visitors to the park today can enjoy tennis, horseshoes, picnics, a children's playground, and more.

Across the nation, WPA workers created or improved 8,000 parks.

(Photo by Brent McKee)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Ronald Reagan on the Great Depression, FDR, and the WPA

On the Great Depression:

“They were cheerless, desperate days. I don’t think anyone who did not live through the Depression can ever understand how difficult it was. In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, ‘the country was dying by inches.’ There were millions of people out of work. The unemployment rate across the country was over twenty-six percent. Every day the radio crackled with announcements warning people not to leave home in search of work because, the announcer said, there were no jobs to be found anywhere. There were no jobs, and for many, it seemed as if there was no hope.”


“(FDR) entered the White House facing a national emergency as grim as any the country has ever faced and, acting quickly, he had implemented a plan of action to deal with the crisis. During his Fireside Chats, his strong, gentle, confident voice resonated across the nation with an eloquence that brought comfort and resilience to a nation caught up in a storm and reassured us that we could lick any problem. I will never forget him for that.”

On the WPA:

“The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR's alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it.”

(Quotes from Ronald Reagan: An American Life, by Ronald Reagan, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1990)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Deal Waterworks

A public water pump house in Baltimore City, built with the assistance of PWA funds...and still serving the community.

(Photo by Brent McKee)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

January: A Year of Good Reading Ahead

A WPA poster.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.