A New Deal for Youth - The National Youth Administration (NYA) - 1938
Front Cover, A New Deal for Youth: The Story of the National Youth Administration, 1938. GGA Image ID # 1531819509
The National Youth Administration was created in an attempt to find a solution or a partial solution for these four shortcomings in our social and economic life.
- There are not jobs enough to take care of the youth who need them and want them.
- Our educational system is not adequate, in size or character, to prepare multitudes of youth for the work opportunities that are available.
- Nationally speaking, there is not equal opportunity for education. Vast areas of the United States have inadequate educational systems. There are not enough free schools to take care of the youth population, and millions of youth and children are too poor to attend free schools and colleges even where they exist.
- There is a gap measured in years between the time a youth leaves school and the time he finds a job. During this period society completely abandons him. Most of our criminals are to be found in this social no-man's land.
It is this broad, tolerant, democratic approach to the problems of youth which I believe has made so effective the methods used by the National Youth Administration.
Every individual connected with the now vast Youth Administration organization, from the President of the United States down to the individual youth beneficiary in the most remote sections of our country, is contributing to its solution. Whether we are on the right course, the reader will have to judge for himself.
I have determined that we shall do something for the Nation's unemployed youth, because we can ill afford to lose the skill and energy of these young men and women. They must have their chance in school, their turn as apprentices, and their opportunity for jobs—a chance to work and earn for themselves.
If more young men could find jobs at adequate wages, more girls would give up work, or looking for it, and devote themselves exclusively to homemaking. If more fathers were employed, more youth might remain in school longer and more of the girls might stay at home while awaiting marriage.
The work program of the NYA, started in January 1936, has been developed to meet the needs of the lowest-income group of boys and girls who have grown up in the depression. In April 1938, 180,000 unmarried young people from 18 to 24 years old were employed part-time on a wide variety of NYA work projects.
Construction is the dominant trend in the work program; two years ago it played only a minor role. It is specifically required that NYA shall undertake no construction work which would be provided for out of State or local budgets, so that displacement of adult workers by youth labor is avoided.
Next to construction, workshops are the biggest development in the out-of-school program. NYA supervisors canvass the possibilities for placement in municipal workshops, such as city waterworks, fire departments, and general maintenance shops.
A large group of work projects have been set up with these two purposes in view: to extend the services of existing public agencies and to give boys and girls beginners' jobs in the varied activities of these agencies.
These facts stood out blatantly: there are few employment outlets for girls with sixth, seventh, and eighth grade educations. There are thousands of NYA girls in this group. Fourteen percent of the women employed in the United States are in professional occupations, which are a sealed door to these girls.
Most communities in the United States offer meager recreational facilities for young people who are out-of-school and out-of-work. And they are the very young people who need most the normal spare-time activities of youth—athletics and games, dancing, music, dramatics, hobby clubs—or just some place to meet friends.
Forty boys were making school furniture. Some were cutting lumber, some were working at the lathe, others at power saws. One boy was carefully shellacking a bookcase. We watched the foreman as he went from boy to boy, stopping here only a minute, and staying five minutes, perhaps, with the next young man.
NYA boys and girls are advised about the wide range of adult education courses conducted by WPA teachers throughout the country. In some instances, WPA assigns teachers for special NYA courses related closely to the work the youth are doing.
Courses of study, not the regular college courses, but especially designed for these youth, are given in subjects related to the actual work they are doing. Plans have been completed for NYA boys to build a dormitory similar to the two constructed by WPA.
The Quoddy NYA project is sometimes called a vocational finding school. The aim is not to turn out skilled workers but to give boys a chance through actual work experience and related training to make an intelligent choice of the occupations for which they show interest and potential ability.
Connecting the boy or girl with the job is one of the objectives of the NYA work program. Because of their lack both of education and of work experience, young people from relief families have even greater difficulties than other groups of youth in finding work.
The services of these Junior Divisions are available to all youth, regardless of their relief status. Two questions naturally present themselves concerning Junior Employment Divisions. First, why should they be separate units in State employment services? Second, why should they come under NYA?
The faces of the thousands of NYA boys and girls we have seen, flash through our minds. What does it mean to be young in these last, lean years of depression? What is it like to grow up in a relief family? What kinds of homes did these boys and girls leave in the morning when they came to work?
Many NYA youths speak out about their situation, their job at the NYA project, their family life, and their accomplishments. Often the National Youth Administration has helped them progress to pursuing their goal of employment or education.
With the advent of the depression, the number of students partly or entirely dependent on their own earning capacities sharply increased, and the number of jobs open to them sharply decreased. Most institutions made all the concessions that their own often dwindling resources permitted to promising students with little or no money.
Devising suitable work projects for NYA students has been a challenge to the ingenuity of college authorities. At the out- set many of the work projects undoubtedly were routine in character or were frivolous "boondoggling" or were hardly more than camouflage.
Information as to the scholastic standing of NYA students was collected in 1935–36 from 270 colleges in 31 States. 168 reported that, on the average, NYA students made higher grades than non-NYA students.
In the fall of 1935, NYA instituted a Nation-wide program of aid to needy school students 16 years of age or older. The main features of school aid were copied from the already tested college aid, but the maximum monthly payment to any individual student was fixed at $6.00.
The 500,000 young men and women, 18 to 25 years old, who have been on the NYA out-of-school program in the last two and a half years have on the average attained only eighth grade education. Among all these youth, few have had any kind of occupational training in school or in work.
The NYA program is in a fluid, changing state. It is an emergency measure, designed to provide some of the less privileged youth with at least a measure of participation in the economic, social, and educational life of an era which frequently seems to have no place for many of them.
Images of the National Youth Administration in Action - 1938 (In Progress 2020-05)
Most of these pictures were taken by NYA supervisors or by photographers for the Works Progress Administration. They give an idea not only of the scope of the NYA program but of the types of young people who are employed on it, which means the types of young people who today are unable to find jobs in private employment or to continue their education without NYA part-time work.