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)      

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