Jobs and Relief
"Our greatest primary task is to put people to work."
- Franklin Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933
When FDR took office one out of four workers was without as job. Another one in four could only find part-time work. Millions of Americans were barely surviving on dwindling aid provided by overwhelmed charities and state and local governments.
Roosevelt moved immediately to put people back to work. He launched the largest public works program in American history. He directed billions of Federal dollars to fund work relief for the unemployed. And he committed the government to an unprecedented effort to regulate prices and wages and improve business and labor conditions in the United States.
FDR's goal was to provide immediate assistance to the unemployed and to increase their purchasing power. They could then buy more goods and services and help boost the nation's economy.
Work for the Unemployed
The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) quickly created government-funded jobs for millions of unemployed workers. FERA provided states and cities with billions of dollars to finance local work projects. From 1933-1935 it completed over 235,000 projects. At its peak, it employed almost two and a half million people. The agency helped millions of families survive during the bleakest years of the Great Depression.
The Public Works Administration (PWA) contracted with private construction companies to put additional people to work building highways, canals, dams, and other large-scale infrastructure. PWA accounted for one-third of all construction in America in 1933. From 1933-1939, it funded over 34,000 projects, including the Grand Coulee Dam, the Lincoln Tunnel, and the All American Canal.
Jobs For Youth
High youth unemployment troubled FDR. He personally devised the idea for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a program to put young men aged 17-24 - many from urban areas - to work on conservation projects in healthy rural environments. Within three months the Corps enlisted nearly 250,000 men. They were assigned to CCC camps around the nation. African Americans participated, but they worked in segregated camps.
During its nine-year existence, the CCC employed nearly three million men. Eleanor Roosevelt championed the CCC and, with her strong backing, a much smaller program was also created for unemployed young women.
The CCC planted over two billion trees, fought forest fires, built trails, campgrounds, and reservoirs, and aided with soil conservation programs. It became one of the New Deal's most popular and successful programs. Its legacy remains today in facilities it constructed throughout America's national forests and parks.
NRA: We Do Our Part!
The centerpiece of FDR's economic revival plan was the National Industrial Recovery Administration (NRA).
The NRA sought to end cut-throat competition that was reducing wages and prices to disastrous levels. It encouraged businesses in hundreds of industries to create codes of "fair competition." The codes set maximum hours and minimum wages, guaranteed union rights, and prohibited child labor.
Companies adopting the codes were exempt from anti-trust laws. They proudly displayed NRA's blue eagle symbol on their products. NRA parades and rallies became community events. These activities gave Americans a psychological lift, but the NRA proved ineffective. Its codes were unwieldy and, sometimes, ludicrous-including regulations for industries like shoulder pads, dog food, and burlesque theaters. Many codes favored larger businesses and encouraged monopolistic practices that hindered economic recovery. Few mourned when the NRA was declared unconstitutional in 1935.