Thursday, February 28, 2013

8 Million Bushels of New Deal Oysters

(Click on images to enlarge)

The WPA planted over 8 million bushels of oysters in various parts of the country. The photos above show WPA workers loading a boat with oyster shells in Crisfield, Maryland, in 1936, and a different group of WPA workers shoveling oyster shells into the Chesapeake Bay.

Those "lazy shovel leaners" sure did fill a lot of American bellies with food, didn't they?

(Photos courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Parks, Budget Cuts, and the Economy

The across-the-board federal budget cuts (the so-called "sequestration") is set to take place in just a few days. Tracie Cone, of the Associated Press, recently reported on how these cuts are likely to impact the National Parks, e.g., closed sections, less presentations for school children, and less frequent trash pickup.  ("National parks prepare to limit attractions if budget cuts take effect," Associated Press, February 23, 2013, found in the Cumberland Times-News)

This is interesting for two reasons. First, because it shows the stark contrast between how we are fighting our current economic doldrums and how we fought the depression of the 1930s. And second, because it has to make one wonder why we would cut back on something that has an economic benefit higher than its cost.

During the Great Depression, the New Deal work programs, especially the CCC & WPA, worked on thousands of national, state, county, and municipal parks. For example, the CCC & WPA played a major role in the early creation/development of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited park in the United States.

The National Park Service has a budget of about 3 billion dollars. And, of course, states, counties, and municipalities have their own budgets for their own parks. But it was recently reported that "44 percent of us make outdoor recreation a priority, adding up to an annual economic impact of $646 billion, according to a recent report by the Outdoor Industry Association" (see article here). And you can find numerous examples of how parks have positive economic effects on the areas that surround them (see, e.g., here). The Garrett County Chamber of Commerce (western Maryland) heavily emphasizes nearby forests & parks as attractions--and most of these forests & parks were created, developed, and maintained by the CCC (see here).

So, during the Great Depression we hired the unemployed into public works programs, they created or improved thousands of parks, and the parks have proven to be engines of economic growth, due to Americans' love of the outdoors. Today, our politicians turn their noses up at the unemployed, let their skills & dreams fall to pieces, and prepare to cut the budget of the National Park System which, when adjusted for inflation, is already 15% lower than it was ten years ago. And, no doubt, many state, county, and municipal "leaders" are doing the same.  

What an amazing contrast.  Are you scratching your head yet or, like me, are you banging your head against the wall?


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

Monday, February 25, 2013

Unemployed nurses, while Tuberculosis spreads

According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, LA County is experiencing a serious outbreak of Tuberculosis, and it seems to be spreading particularly fast among the county's poorest residents (see article here).

About a month ago, it was reported that newly licensed nurses are having an extremely hard time finding jobs in California and elsewhere (see that article here).

During the Great Depression, New Deal work & construction programs built Tuberculosis hospitals, hired unemployed nurses and pharmacists to treat low-income Americans with communicable diseases, operated mobile health clinics, gave immunizations, and raised awareness about health problems through posters like the one you see above.

The New Deal helped the Tuberculosis problem become so small that many Tuberculosis treatment centers eventually shut down for lack of patients.  The Henryton State Hospital in Carroll County, Maryland, and the Genn Dale Hospital in Prince George’s County, Maryland—two Tuberculosis hospitals that benefited from New Deal construction—lay in ruins, unneeded for decades.

Today, of course, we limit good preventative health care to those who can afford it (and it remains to be seen how well Obamacare will mitigate this reality). And we look at unemployed nurses and throw up our hands in bewilderment , “What can we do??”


So, let’s sum this up: Nurses can’t find work, Tuberculosis spreads, and we look at each other like deer caught in the headlights.


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

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Master Builders

The Public Works Administration (PWA, 1933-43), often confused with the WPA, funded the construction of thousands of projects across the nation--dams, bridges, schools, hospitals, naval vessels, and more. Generally speaking, the PWA was interested in large projects that would utilize the skills of private contractors, and the WPA was interested in smaller projects that could be quickly staffed with unemployed men & women. A perfect example of this is Fort Hill High School in Cumberland, Maryland. The large superstructure was built by private contractors with the assistance of PWA funds, and the surrounding area was worked on by WPA laborers (landscaping, tennis courts, roads).    

Again, this is just a general rule. For example, occasionally, the WPA would engage in large construction projects (they created the football stadium at Fort Hill High School). And the PWA was not oblivious to the problem of unemployment. Their projects saved jobs and, inevitably, created job openings for unemployed Americans to fill.

(Image above is from the book "America Builds: The Record of PWA.")    

Friday, February 22, 2013

Golf, courtesy of the New Deal

The New Deal was responsible for many new & improved golf courses.  For example, the WPA built, repaired, or improved 632 golf courses across the country.  If you're an avid golfer, chances are, you've played on a New Deal course.

(Image above is in the public domain, courtesy of,

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Golden Threads Again

I posted this quote back in December. I've been thinking about it lately and decided to post it again:

"Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins believed that people given a job to do would do it well, and the fact that their paychecks were issued by the government would make not a whit of difference. They were right. The workers of the WPA shone. They excelled. They created works that even without restoration have lasted more than seventy years and still stand strong, art that is admired, research that is relied upon, infrastructure that endures...These ordinary men and women proved to be extraordinary beyond all expectation. They were golden threads woven into the national fabric. In this they shamed the political philosophy that discounted their value and rewarded the one that placed its faith in them."

--Nick Taylor, "American-Made," New York: Bantam Books, 2008 (p. 530, 2009 paperback edition).

Friday, February 15, 2013

The WPA moves a house

The WPA engaged in thousands of miscellaneous projects, that are hard to quantify. In the picture above, we see WPA workers moving a caretaker's cottage in 1936 at St. Mary's Female Seminary Junior College (this was a non-religious school, and a predecessor to the present-day St. Mary's College of Maryland). 

How many work projects like this have been forgotten over time?

(Photo by the WPA, courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Harry Hopkins replies to Herbert Hoover

(Above: Harry Hopkins, head of the WPA)

(Above: Herbert Hoover, 31st president of  the United States)     

Herbert Hoover thought the New Deal was leading America towards fascism (the same type of absurd claim that is made today, when President Obama or the Democrats try to create a policy designed to help the non-wealthy).

Harry Hopkins--head of the WPA--responded: "Is it dictatorship to try to operate a government for all the people and not just a few? Is it dictatorship to guarantee the deposits of small depositors, and keep phony stocks and bonds off the market? Is it dictatorship to save millions of homes from foreclosure? Is it dictatorship to give a measure of protection to millions who are economically insecure and jobs to other millions who can't find work? Is it dictatorship to try to put a floor under wages and a ceiling over working hours?"

(From: "Hopkins denies relief waste in reply to Hoover on fascism," Washington Post, May 9, 1938. Hopkins image courtesy of the Social Security Administration; Hoover image courtesy of the National Park Service)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Jobs vs. Punishment

During the New Deal the nation focused on providing jobs and training to those Americans who the private sector did not want, by directly employing them in programs like the WPA & CCC, and by offering them a variety of free courses.

Today, the situation is quite different. During one of the worst economic periods in American history, and during a time when many Republicans claim that Obama is ruining the economy and not producing enough jobs, many Republican legislators are pushing to reduce the amount of help available to the unemployed. Federal aid for job training is under threat (see, e.g., here). Federally-funded extensions of unemployment benefits are a constant battle (see, e.g., here). A bill for a new WPA collects dust in committee, garners few co-sponsors, and eventually dies (where were the Democrats on this?) (see here). Legislation for a new CCC-type program for unemployed vets is blocked by Senate Republicans (see here). And the list of punishments goes on and on.

Even states are getting in on the punishment game by reducing benefits, as well as drug testing people who are laid off from their jobs. For example, the North Carolina General Assembly is on the verge of reducing its unemployment benefits from 26 to "as few as 12," and reducing its "maximum weekly benefit from $530 to $350 per person" (see here).

As if all this were not bad enough, multi-national corporations continue to send good-paying American jobs to cheap foreign labor markets. This is done to increase executive compensation packages, and to increase investor returns. But, in doing so, middle-class people and families are destroyed.

Question: If unemployment is still high, and federal funding for job training is being reduced, and unemployment benefits are being scaled back, and American jobs continue to be exported, and there is not going to be a new WPA or CCC, what is left for unemployed Americans besides occasionally landing a service sector job with low-pay, stingy benefits, little security, and no future?

This is the American Dream? To get laid-off, drug tested, cut off from assistance, and pray you get a minimum wage job? Wow. Sounds more like a nightmare than a dream.

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

Monday, February 11, 2013

Rodeos, courtesy of the WPA

The WPA built, repaired, or improved 337 fairgrounds & rodeo grounds. (Image above is a WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

How long will it be before unemployment is a crime?

Some conservative-led legislatures have decided to (or are contemplating) drug tests for unemployed people seeking unemployment benefits or job training. See Arthur Delaney's article "Georgia's Drug-Testing Scheme Nabs Just One Person" for an example.

The idea behind these laws seems to be that the unemployed are jobless because they're "druggies" seeking a free ride on the backs of taxpayers. Some conservative politicians probably want to be viewed as tough-on-the-"takers." But it seems to me that they are casting a pretty wide net. A person could work at a company for 20 years, have his/her job sent overseas to increase corporate profits, become unemployed, and suddenly be forced to urinate in a cup so the state can examine what he/she has been up to.

And why are the unemployed being singled out? Why not drug test people requesting the mortgage interest deduction on their tax returns? Shouldn't we be sure that we are not subsidizing the drug habits of some homeowners? Why not drug test people who use public roads? Shouldn't we be sure that people driving on publicly-funded roads are not on drugs? I would suggest that we're doing this to the unemployed because they're easy to bully. Few unemployed people can afford attorneys to fight for their rights & privacy. Hence, the unemployed make easy targets/victims for politicians trying to market their "tough guy" or "tough gal" image to the broader public.

And how long will it be before we start to criminalize some aspects of unemployment? For those of us who follow the news and/or legal developments, we know that many aspects of homelessness and panhandling have been criminalized. Is it such a stretch--given the push for drug-testing the jobless--that one day some aspects of joblessness will be criminalized? Indeed, some people have gone to jail for failing to pay child support after losing their job/income. What will the next law do? And the one after that?

During the Great Depression we gave the unemployed job opportunities. They created thousands of sites & structures that we still use today (and, of course, we use them almost completely oblivious to their origin). But today we watch the unemployed with suspicion & condemnation, humiliating them by making them pee in a cup if they need help--even if they have been good workers all their lives with no criminal history. Shame on those who humiliate their fellow citizens because they've lost their job.

(Image above was created by "Vectorportal," at, used under the license highlighted on that web page)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Fishing & Swimming, Courtesy of the CCC

The CCC improved the lake at New Germany State Park, in Garrett County, Maryland, by clearing out submerged logs, "building a new earthen breast works for the dam," and adding a spillway (from an information plaque at the park).

After the CCC's improvements, fishing and swimming became popular at the lake; and these activities  continue to be popular today.  Another example of how yesteryear's government investment is still benefiting us today.

(Photo by Brent McKee)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

One Third of a State, One Third of a Nation

On January 16, 2013, the Huffington Post reported that "Chicago-based human rights advocacy group Heartland Alliance released data from its annual study that suggests 33 percent of Illinoisans are living in poverty or near it..." (see article here).

What's the ol' saying?  "The more things change, the more..."

But actually, after the New Deal was implemented, and after World War II, we started making some progress, yes?  A strong and growing middle-class?  Lots of opportunities?  The American Dream?  What happened?

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

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Winter Sports

Another cool (pun intended) WPA poster (image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division).