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The WPA (Works Progress Administration) – The WPA Conference in Washington D.C. being held on June 26, 1939. Ahead of that conference, Congressman Kent E. Keller gave a radio address on the goals of the upcoming conference.
Here is some background on what the WPA was and what it stood for and what it accomplished in the days of the Great Depression (via Wikipedia):
The Works Progress Administration (WPA; renamed in 1939 as the Works Projects Administration) was an American New Deal agency, employing millions of job-seekers (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. It was established on May 6, 1935, by Executive Order 7034.
The WPA’s initial appropriation in 1935 was for $4.9 billion (about 6.7 percent of the 1935 GDP).
Headed by Harry Hopkins, the WPA provided jobs and income to the unemployed during the Great Depression in the United States, while developing infrastructure to support the current and future society.
Above all, the WPA hired workers and craftsmen who were mainly employed in building streets. Thus, under the leadership of the WPA, more than 1 million km of streets and over 10,000 bridges were built, in addition to many airports and much housing.
The largest single project of the WPA was the Tennessee Valley Authority, which provided the impoverished Tennessee Valley with dams and waterworks to create an infrastructure for electrical power and to help prevent floods. Many famous structures were constructed with the help of WPA labor and funds, including Camp David, the presidential estate in Maryland often used for international meetings, and the on-ramp to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
At its peak in 1938, it provided paid jobs for three million unemployed men and women, as well as youth in a separate division, the National Youth Administration. Between 1935 and 1943, when the agency was disbanded, the WPA employed 8.5 million people. Most people who needed a job were eligible for employment in some capacity. Hourly wages were typically set to the prevailing wages in each area. Full employment, which was reached in 1942 and emerged as a long-term national goal around 1944, was not the goal of the WPA; rather, it tried to provide one paid job for all families in which the breadwinner suffered long-term unemployment.
In one project, Federal Project Number One, the WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects. The five projects dedicated to these were: the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), the Historical Records Survey (HRS), the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), the Federal Music Project (FMP), and the Federal Art Project (FAP). In the Historical Records Survey, for instance, many former slaves in the South were interviewed; these documents are of great importance for American history. Theater and music groups toured throughout the United States, and gave more than 225,000 performances. Archaeological investigations under the WPA were influential in the rediscovery of pre-Columbian Native American cultures, and the development of professional archaeology in the US.
“The stated goal of public building programs was to end the depression or, at least, alleviate its worst effects,” sociologist Robert D. Leighninger asserted. “Millions of people needed subsistence incomes. Work relief was preferred over public assistance (the dole) because it maintained self-respect, reinforced the work ethic, and kept skills sharp.”
The WPA was a national program that operated its own projects in cooperation with state and local governments, which provided 10–30% of the costs. Usually the local sponsor provided land and often trucks and supplies, with the WPA responsible for wages (and for the salaries of supervisors, who were not on relief). WPA sometimes took over state and local relief programs that had originated in the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) or Federal Emergency Relief Administration programs (FERA).
It was liquidated on June 30, 1943, as a result of low unemployment due to the worker shortage of World War II. The WPA had provided millions of Americans with jobs for eight years.
Here is Congressman Kent E. Keller’s radio address, as it was broadcast on June 23, 1939.