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writing for godot

WHAT ABOUT THE WPA?

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Written by Wilma Howe-Bennett   
Saturday, 04 June 2011 22:44


Hi, all:

Every so often, I repost an older blog entry, and, in view of what House Leader John "WHINEY CRYBABY" Boehner is NOT proposing, I thought that this one was particularly apt. It’s LONG past time to look at some of the older programs that were ultimately treated with scorn and derision – like the National Recovery Act, The County Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration.

I first posted this blog 4 years ago back in 2007, before our current President was elected. I believe that it's as relevant today as it was then, maybe even more so. With the unemployment numbers at 9.1%, with fewer than 56K jobs created in May, with the double-dip recession about to rear its ugly head, and with the unemployment claims dropping only because the 99ers are now without any sort of resources, I thought that it might be timely to re-present a set of ideas that were first proposed by a personal hero of mine, Herbert Hoover, and then stolen by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who wouldn't have recognized a new idea if it bit him in the balls.

Thanks for reading!

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WHAT ABOUT THE WPA?

I was watching, as is usual for this time of night, Keith Olbermann's show COUNTDOWN, and was struck by an idea floated by Rachel Maddow of AirAmerica Radio, who was a guest (this is before she got her own show, which is both interesting and relevant). She mentioned that this country is in a recession, headed down the steep and slippery slope of the economic BS that pResident Bu$hit and his "economists" have been pushing for the last 7 years, and added, almost as an afterthought, that setting up something similar to the WPA and some of the various other programs of the New Deal might be in order.

WOW, what a concept. Something that that parlour pink Delano Roosevelt supposedly thought up that might actually be a GOOD thing for our struggling country and our struggling economy? Take me, Jesus, I'm ready!

Just in case y'all out there in ReaderLand might have missed the sarcasm, I loathe Franklin Delano Roosevelt and just about everything that he pretended that he stood for and just about everything that he espoused. As far as I have been able to find out, he didn't have an original idea in his life; he stole everything that he put together for his New Deal from his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, and took credit for all of it - except the parts that didn't work or that were declared unconstitutional. THOSE, he blamed on Hoover.

OK, so what was the New Deal, and why should any of us be excited about it? More to the point, how could anything that is almost 80 years old be relevant to our situation today - and why should we care?

The New Deal set in place and promoted the following programs: the Forest Service, which takes care of the national parks and all publicly-owned lands, The National Recovery Act (declared unconstitutional), The Agricultural Adjustment Act (farming subsidies and soil banking, also declared unconstitutional although later revised - and part of it are still in operation today), the TVA, The Wagner Act (empowering labour unions by mandating by law that all employees in a business join a union and/or pay dues if the majority of workers agreed to form one), the CCC, the FDIC, the SEC, (OF COURSE) Social Security (which is one of the things that is propping up the economy and providing for the below-poverty-level subsistence of seniors, among other folks), the rural electrification programs that are still in force today, the National Youth Authority, and the WPA, or Works Progress Administration.

After Ms. Maddow made her suggestion, I went and did some research. The list above is only a partial list of all the New Deal programs, by the way. Here's what I found out about the WPA:

The administration employed millions of people and affected almost every locality, especially rural and western mountain populations. It was created in April, 1935 by Presidential order, and activated with Congressional funding in July of that year (U.S. Congress funded it annually but did not set it up). It continued and extended relief programs similar to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) started by Herbert Hoover in 1932. The program built many public buildings, projects and roads, and operated large arts, drama, media and literacy projects. It fed children, redistributed food, clothing and housing. Until the program was closed down by Congress and the war boom began in 1943, the various programs of the WPA added up to the largest employment base in the country ; indeed, the program was the largest cluster of government employment opportunities in most states. Anyone who needed a job could become eligible for most of its jobs.

Let me repeat the most salient point: This program fed children, redistributed food, clothing and housing. This is a good thing, no? By the way, hourly wages were the prevailing wages in most of the areas; the rules said workers could not work more than 30 hours a week but many projects included months in the field, with workers eating and sleeping on worksites. In other words, the EMPLOYER provided food, housing, all training if needed, and clothing TO THEIR WORKERS ON SITE - and the workers sent their wages home to their families. Before 1940, there was some training involved in teaching new skills and the project's original legislation went forward with a strong emphasis on family, training and building people up.

WOW, what a concept. People being helped by the FedGov, instead of being turned out to starve to death in the heat/cold and the dark. People being taught how to help themselves and how to exercise their new skills.
About 75% of WPA employment and expenditures went to public facilities and INFRASTRUCTURE, such as highways and streets, public buildings, airports, utilities, small dams, sewers, parks, city halls, public libraries (free libraries, which nobody had ever heard of before!), and recreational fields. The WPA built 650,000 miles of roads, 78,000 bridges, 125,000 buildings, and 700 miles of airport runways. Seven percent of the budget was allocated to arts projects, presenting 225,000 concerts to audiences totaling 150 million, and producing almost 475,000 pieces of art. Some of the art is beautiful, some is garbage - but all of them gave employment to people. ALL of the projects gave something else intangible but absolutely necessary: HOPE.

HOPE. What a concept.

When I first started at Sam Houston State University, all of the sidewalks, the quadrangle, 3/4 of the married students' housing, 2/3 of all the buildings and about 3/5 of the streets and roads within the university proper were all marked as being done under the purview of the WPA, with the year added. I'll add at this point that most of the buildings, all of the sidewalks, roads and the quad were still in terrific shape. They were, at the time, 50 some-odd years old. Better built than a lot of newer buildings, and much nicer looking. I didn't even know what the WPA was, or why I should care.

Now, I do, and this is something that we all need to check into, and, if it's feasible, get behind and promote the absolute HELL out of. Microloans and microcredit could be a part of this as well, and those are already proven to work. With a 99% repayment rate.

Hope. It's the best of things. It's what we all need.
 

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