Letter of Transmittal - WPA Final Report - 1942/1946

Washington, D. C, December 18, 1946.

My Dear General Fleming:

Transmitted herewith is the Final Report on the Work Projects Administration covering the entire period of the operation of its work relief program from July 1, 1935 through June 30, 1943. Publication of this report, which was prepared-during the period of liquidation of the program, has been postponed until now because of the war.

The WPA program originated under a condition of mass unemployment and misery of gigantic proportions. During its operation it provided employment at one time or another for a total of about 8,500,000 different individuals.

This means that during the 8 years in which the program was in operation nearly one-fourth of all families in the United States were dependent on WPA wages for their support.

Peak WPA employment was reached in the fiscal year 1939 when it averaged well over 3,000,000 persons; it declined to an average of 2,000,000 in fiscal. 1940, to 1,709,000 in 1941, and, as war production got well under way, to 271,000 in fiscal 1943, the last year of operation of the program.

This report has been prepared with a view to making the record of WPA experience available to Government officials and other interested individuals, and to presenting for future guidance the problems encountered during the existence of the program and the manner in which they were solved.

Administrative officials and students of the unemployment problem also will find here a succinct account of the background and creation of the WPA program, the process by which needy workers were provided with employment, the types of projects operated, the results accomplished, and the admin- istrative structure and functions of the organization.

During the years of the program's operation a great deal was said in commendation of the physical accomplishments, the maintenance of work habits and skills, the training of workers in new fields, and the part the program played in the earlier stages of the war effort.

Conversely, a great deal was said in criticism of the methods of work, the lack of planning, the alleged malingering^ of WPA workers and their refusal to accept private employment. Without attempting to dis- tribute either praise or blame, this report attempts an objective study of the facts as they have been found.

Among major construction accomplishments of the WPA were the building or improving of 651,000 miles of roads, the erection or improvement of 125,110 buildings of all kinds, the installation of 16,100 miles of water mains and distribution lines, the installation of 24,300 miles of sewerage facilities, and the construction and improvement of many airport facilities, including landing fields, runways, and terminal buildings.

The service projects covered a wide range, from the serving of hot school lunches and the maintenance of child-health centers to the operation of recreation centers and literacy classes. These service projects employed the abilities and training of otherwise jobless white-collar and professional workers and provided many needed and valued community services.

To thousands of the Nation's towns and cities the WPA was important as a social and economic stabilizer in a period of serious stress. Officials of State and local governments who were in close touch with local unemployment situations welcomed the aid of the organization providing work and wages for the needy jobless.

Sponsors' contributions provided $2,837,713,000, or more than one-fifth of the total cost of WPA operated projects, of which the Federal share was $10,136,743,000.

The unemployed of the Nation wanted work and wages; they did not want to loaf in idleness on a dole, and WPA helped in some degree to maintain skills and work habits by cooperating with the communities in providing useful jobs for them.

Although the earnings of WPA workers varied according to skill and location, they averaged only $54.33 a month over the 8-year period.

During the defense emergency and early in the war, WPA workers pero med tasks of substantial military value in the construction and improvement of airports, access roads, strategic highways, barracks, hospitals, mess halls, and other facilities at military and naval establishments, and also in the provision of health, welfare, and other services.

The contribution of the WPA to the national defense and war programs was well recognized by military and naval authorities. WPA workers went in large numbers into private employment in war production plants where the skills they had acquired on W PA projects were utilized, as well as into the a-med services.

Without entering upon an evaluation of the program, it seems generally agreed that WPA work projects marked an advance over traditional poor-law methods of providing relief. Acceptance by the Federal Government of a portion of the responsibility for assistance in the provision of work and wages in a time of mass unemployment must also be accounted as a step forward.

It is believed that a great many persons who served in responsible administrative positions in the WPA will agree with these conclusions:

  1. Public work and relief should not be combined. Eligibility for relief should not be the test "or public employment. Workers on public projects should be paid the wages customary for such work. The unemployed who are able in and willing to work should not be compelled to suffer the humiliation of "going on relief" in order to secure jobs. Direct relief should be reserved for the needy unemployables.
  2. Federal, State, and local governments, in order to be able intelligently to meet changing conditions, should plan their needed public works simply and well in advance of the construction date; they should be prepared with plans and finances to launch useful public works promptly to cushion large-scale employment fluctuations in the construction industry.

The lack of advance planning of State and local public works was largely responsible for the delay in getting the heavy construction program of the Public Works Administration under way in 1933. When the CWA, FERA, and WPA were rushed into action in order to provide imperatively needed public employment, the same lack of advance planning of public works made inevitable much of the confusion and waste which marked some of the early work relief activities of the Federal Government.

The subsequent increase in efficiency was largely made possible by an increase in the efficiency of State and local governments in making adequate preparations for public work to be performed in cooperation with the WPA.

Thanks are due to many former WPA officials and to the representatives of sponsoring agencies for aid and guidance in the preparation of this report; and special thanks are due to Edward A. Williams, director, Floyd Dell, Catharine Lantz, and Simon Naidel, of the WPA Research staff, who have painstakingly gathered, analyzed, and edited the data here presented.

Sincerely yours,

George H. Field.

Major General Philip B. Fleming,
Administrator, Federal Works Agency.

The White House,
December 4, 1942

My Dear General Fleming:

In my annual message to the Congress 7 years ago I outlined the principles of a Federal work relief program. The Work Projects Administration was established in May 1935 and it has followed these basic principles through the years.

This Government accepted the responsibility of providing useful employment for those who were able and willing to work but who could find no opportunities in private industry.

Seven years ago I was convinced that providing useful work is superior to any and every kind of dole. Experience has amply justified this policy.

By building airports, schools, highways, and parks; by making huge quantities of clothing for the unfortunate; by serving millions of lunches to school children; by almost immeasurable kinds and quantities of service the Work Projects Administration has reached a creative hand into every county in this Nation.

It has added to the national wealth, has repaired the wastage of depression and has strengthened the country to bear the burden of war. By employing 8,000,000 of Americans, with 30,000,000 of dependents, it has brought to these people renewed hope and courage.

It has maintained and increased their working skills; and it has enabled them once more to take their rightful places in public or in private employment.

Every employable American should be employed at prevailing wages in war industries, on farms, or in other private or public employment. The Work Projects Administration rolls have greatly decreased, through the tremendous increase in private employment, assisted by the training and reemployment efforts of its own organization, to a point where a national work relief program is no longer necessary.

Certain groups of workers still remain on the rolls who may have to be given assistance by the States and localities; others will be able to find work on farms or in industry at prevailing rates of pay as private employment continues to increase.

Some of the present certified war projects may have to be taken over by other units of the Federal Works Agency or by other departments of the Federal Government. State or local projects should be closed out by completing useful units of such projects or by arranging for the sponsors to carry on the work.

With these considerations in mind, I agree that you should direct the prompt liquidation of the affairs of the Work Projects Administration, thereby conserving a large amount of the funds appropriated to this organization.

This will necessitate closing out all project operations in many States by February 1, 1943, and in other States as soon thereafter as feasible. By taking this action there will be no need to provide project funds for the Work Projects Administration in the budget for the next fiscal year.

I am proud of the Work Projects Administration organization. It has displayed courage and determination in the face of uninformed criticism. The knowledge and experience of this organization will be of great assistance in the consideration of a well-rounded public works program for the postwar period. With the satisfaction of a good job well done and with a high sense of integrity, the Work Projects Administration has asked for and earned an honorable discharge.

Sincerely yours,

Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Major General Philip B. Fleming
Federal Works Administrator
Acting Commissioner of Work Projects
Washington, D. C.

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