Sunday, February 5, 2017

WPA Leather Craft

Above: The description for this photograph, ca. 1935-1943, reads, "Supervised by a WPA recreation leader, these Florida people learn to make useful objects from leather." In a WPA project such as this, the instructor you see above may have lost his job or business due to the economic downturn of the Great Depression. So the WPA, in conjunction with a Florida city or town, hired him to teach his craft to the local community. This is a drastically different approach to unemployment than we have today. If you lose your job today, you might receive unemployment benefits (not every jobless person is eligible for such benefits); you are likely to labeled a "parasite" or "lazy-good-for-nothing" by an army of talking heads on Fox News; but you certainly won't be hired into a pubic works program. Which approach to unemployment & recession do you prefer? Stingy jobless benefits (which usually end after 6 months or so) and insults? Or a dignity-saving and skill-saving public works job, until the person can find regular employment? It seems to me that the most sensible & compassionate approach to joblessness would be a short period of benefits followed by several public works opportunities - until the person can find regular employment. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

"That was one of the great things about the WPA, that it did everything possible to keep people in their proper field of activity..."

--Anne (Treadwell) Dettner, director of the National Youth Administration in California from 1935-1939 (the NYA was a subdivision of the WPA during those years), from an oral history conducted by the University of California Berkeley in 1994-1995.

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