Works Progress Administration

The Works Progress Administration (renamed during 1939 as the Works Project Administration; WPA) was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unskilled workers to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. It also employed artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects. Writers documented local and state histories, artists painted murals and other works for new federal post offices and other buildings.

The WPA provided food for children and redistributed food, clothing, and housing. Almost every community in the United States had a new park, bridge or school constructed by the agency. The WPA's initial appropriation in 1935 was for $4.9 billion (about 6.7 percent of the 1935 GDP), and in total it spent $13.4 billion.

At its peak in 1938, it provided paid jobs for three million unemployed men (and some women), as well as youth in a separate division, the National Youth Administration. Headed by Harry Hopkins, the WPA provided jobs and income to the unemployed during the Great Depression in the United States. Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA provided almost eight million jobs. Full employment, which emerged as a national goal around 1944, was not the WPA goal. It tried to provide one paid job for all families in which the breadwinner suffered long-term unemployment.

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. WPA sometimes took over state and local relief programs that had originated in the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) or Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) programs.

Liquidated on June 30, 1943 as a result of low unemployment due to the worker shortage of World War II, the WPA provided millions of Americans with jobs for 8 years. Most people who needed a job were eligible for at least some of its positions. Hourly wages were typically set to the prevailing wages in each area. But, workers could not be paid for more than 30 hours a week. Before 1940, to meet the objections of the labor unions, the programs provided very little training to teach new skills to workers.

Read more about Works Progress Administration:  Enacting The WPA, Women, Relief For African Americans, Projects Funded, Employment, Criticism, Popular Culture, Evolution and Termination

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