Works Progress Administration

By Roosevelt Institute |

dictionary-150What is the WPA?

The Works Progress Administration provided jobs for unemployed people in the United States during the Great Depression and was responsible for building various infrastructure projects across the United States, such as LaGuardia airport. Other government organizations also existed that provided work to people during the Depression, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works Administration. However, no other program was as large or as extensive as the WPA. It ultimately employed millions of Americans who otherwise would not have been able to find jobs.

What’s the significance?

The WPA provides an empirical example of the impact of a work program in times of economic recession. It has also become a lightning rod for contention between the right and the left. The right charges that it was inefficient and a “socialist” program. The left argues that it helped reduce unemployment from 25% to 10%, modernized our nation’s infrastructure, and provided jobs for people who otherwise would have gone hungry. Many economists argue that we need to have a similar program today in order to reduce unemployment until the economy can pick up again.

Who’s talking about it?

David Woolner gives a historical explanation of the impact of the WPA in forming the infrastructure that makes the U.S. what it is today and argues powerfully that we need it again…  Marshall Auerback draws a parallel between the unemployment crisis faced by Obama and the one faced by FDR and makes an argument for programs like the WPA that will help main street get off its feet… Mark LaFaur advocates for infrastructure and the programs that we should be investing in to support it… Lynn Parramore invokes the idea of government funded employment throughout an interview on MoneyWatch… Gray Brechin writes an article that gives an understanding of the large amount and lasting impact of WPA projects… Harvey J. Kaye goes through the ways that the right wrongly attempts to re-write the history of the New Deal and the WPA.

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