WPA Archives - The Works Program in Review - 1936

With the twofold objective of giving jobs to some 3,500,000 destitute, employable persons and utilizing the efforts of these people in adding to the country's wealth, the Works Program was initiated during the summer of 1935. This report covers the different aspects of the Program: the jobs provided, the work done, the organizational framework established for the operation of the Program, and the setting in which the Program was instituted.


At its employment peak, February 1936, the Works Program provided jobs 'directly to more than 3,800,000 people, more than 90 percent of whom were from relief rolls. In excess of 3,000,000 of this number were at work under the Works Progress Administration, the balance being either enrolled in Emergency Conservation Work (chiefly in the Civilian Conservation Corps) or employed on projects of cooperating Federal agencies including the Public Works Administration and the Bureau of Public Roads.

Employment has decreased since February 1936 to about 3,400,000 persons at the end of August due to curtailment of the Program in response to improved conditions in private industry and seasonal employment in agriculture. This decline has been effected chiefly by restricting WPA employment, although there has been a drop of 50,000 in the number of CCC enrollees.

The reduction has taken place despite the provision of 135,000 emergency jobs for drought-stricken farmers (mostly under the WPA) and a 200,000 increase in the employment of Federal agencies other than the WPA and the CCC. As of the end of August 1936, the 3,400,000 total was composed of the following: 2,377,000 employed under the WPA, 386,000 employed under KT, and 637,000 engaged on Works Program projects of cither Federal agencies.

The youths who have benefited either through the student aid program of the National Youth Administration or through part-time work on projects of the National Youth Administration are not included in employment totals. Since the turn of the year, these youths have numbered as many as 400,000 under the student aid program and between 175,000 and 200,000 at work on NYA projects.

Payment to persons employed on Works Program jobs has, with certain exceptions, been made in accordance with a monthly security earnings schedule based on a number of relevant factors. The schedule varies for different sections of the country and is adjusted according to the skills of workers, the density of population, and costs of living. Under the established schedule, actual average monthly earnings of security wage workers employed on Works Progress Administration projects in March 1936 amounted to approximately $46.

Work habits have been cultivated through the jobs provided, a factor which makes employees better able to secure private employment and resume their normal place in the communities where they live. This is particularly true of the great number of persons whose Works Program jobs either utilize old skills or develop new ones. The Program has attempted to make available the proper kind of jobs through diversification in the types of work prosecuted.


Considerably over 100,000 projects have been completed or are being prosecuted throughout the country. Construction work has been accorded major emphasis. This includes building or repair of roads, renovation or construction of public buildings, extension of public utility facilities, and other improvements to public property (Federal, State, and local). State and local projects have been prosecuted under the WPA and the PWA, the latter through grants and loans by which local and State authorities have been enabled to undertake substantial construction jobs.

Schools predominate in PWA projects. The wealth of projects operated by the WPA constitute the major part of the Works Program. New construction and repair and improvement projects, supplemented by white collar projects and projects for women, have accomplished results of vital significance to the communities where they are prosecuted.

The accomplishments of the CCC, chiefly in conservation, have likewise been notable. Projects for the improvement of Federal property for the most part have been carried on by the Federal agencies that normally have jurisdiction in the various fields. The work of the Forest Service in the national forests illustrates this point.

When emergencies have developed, every effort has been made to cope successfully with them by use of Works Program facilities. In the case of floods, preventive and protective measures have been taken, and where damage has been done part of the task of reconstruction has been borne by the WPA. During the spring of 1936 emergency flood work alone involved the transfer of tens of thousands of persons from regular WPA projects to emergency flood projects.

With the advent of the drought in the summer of 1936 the WPA, aided by other Federal agencies cooperating in the Works Program, provided employment for drought-stricken farmers. Jobs of this kind totaled 135,000 at the end of August 1936 and the number was still increasing at that time.

Framework of the Works Program

The Works Program, as inaugurated under the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, coordinated the emergency activities of the Federal agencies undertaken to provide security in the form of jobs for the destitute unemployed. Cooperating in the Works Program are many of the regular Federal agencies as well as several emergency agencies which were in existence at the time when the act became effective (notably the Public Works Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps).

Upon the passage of the act three new organizations were created by Executive order, namely, the Works Progress Administration, the Resettlement Administration, and the Rural Electrification Administration.

The Works Progress Administration was given responsibility for the coordinated operation of the entire Works Program. This responsibility included the making of regulations concerning eligibility for employment, the investigation of wages and working conditions to aid the President in his determination of policies pertaining thereto, and the setting-up of a reporting system covering the Works Program.

The WPA was also given responsibility for the review of projects submitted and the equalization of employment provided under the Program in various communities. The latter was accomplished through the operation, in conjunction with projects of other agencies, of a sufficient number of projects to fill the work relief requirements of the different communities. The National Youth Administration was created under the Works Progress Administration to help the needy youth of the Nation either through a student aid program or by providing part-time jobs on projects.

The Resettlement Administration was assigned the function of aiding the needy rural population chiefly by making loans or grants to farmers. This administration also has operated projects, including land utilization and suburban housing, and has been instrumental in aiding a limited number of farm families to move from sub marginal lands.

The task of transferring persons from relief to Works Program jobs was accomplished with the aid of local relief agencies who certified employable persons from relief rolls to the United States Employment Service. This agency, in cooperation with the WPA, assigned workers to Works Program jobs. Disbursement, accounting, and procurement of materials and supplies for the Works Program have been carried on by the Treasury Department. The Works Program, as thus roughly sketched, encompasses the cooperative efforts of 40 agencies.

Funds for the Works Program were provided by the Emergency Relief Appropriation Acts of 1935 and 1936; under the first an amount not to exceed $4080.000.000 was appropriated and under the second, $1,425,000,000. The President has made allocations of these funds to the various agencies participating in the Works Program, amounting, as of August 31, 1936, to $5,430,063,859. Nearly one billion dollars was allocated to the Federal Emergency Relief Administration for continuing its relief activities until the new Works Program was under way.

Allocations to the WPA totaled a little over two billion dollars while the CCC, the Bureau of Public Roads, and the PWA each have received approximately one-half billion dollars. Allocations to other agencies have been made in smaller amounts. As of August 31, 1936, checks had been issued to the amount of $3,940,351,932 against the total Works Program allocations.

Background of the Works Program

The genesis of a large scale and diversified work program is found in the relief developments of the past several years. Outstanding among such developments was the gradual widening of the area of governmental responsibility for emergency relief activities which progressed, between 1929 and 1933, from local to State and finally to Federal participation. Another important development has been the trend toward work relief. Some comments upon these developments are necessary to clarify the objectives and achievements of the Works Program.

Prior to the depression the relief problem centered primarily about the care of unemployables. The increase in unemployment which accompanied the business recession beginning in 1929 resulted in widespread demand for relief of unemployment. Despite the expansion of local relief and the inauguration of State unemployment relief measures it was recognized by the middle of 1932 that neither State nor local governmental bodies could cope with the growing relief problem.

Federal assumption of part of the relief burden came in 1932 with provision of $300,000,000 for loans to States and municipalities to be used for emergency relief. In May 1933 the Federal Government expanded its relief activities by creating the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and authorizing grants to States for relief purposes.

This step was necessitated by the magnitude of the relief problem which, as indicated by relief loads, involved the care in March 1933 of nearly 5,000,000 families and single persons, or a total of 20,500,000 persons including dependents. Subsequent Federal aid has been provided under the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Civil Works Administration, and the Works Program.

The FERA at the outset accepted as a desirable objective the extension of the work relief movement that was already under way in many communities as a part of early State and local relief activities. In consequence, State emergency relief administration work programs, financed largely by FERA grants, were developed. These programs recognized the principles that work relief should be sufficiently diversified to afford jobs suited to the workers' previous experience and that relief projects should be genuinely useful to the community.

The operations of the CWA in the winter months of 1933-34 gave further impetus to a work program. Employment during this period was also provided under the CCC and the PRA. Having these precedents, the Works Program was inaugurated in 1936. With the inception of this program the Federal Government announced its intention of withdrawing from the field of direct relief and concentrating its energies on the problem of providing work.

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WPA / Works Progress Administration
GG Archives

Brochures, Booklets, & Pamphlets


Farmers on Relief and Rehabilitation - WPA - 1937

Inventory: An Appraisal of Results of the Works Progress Administration - 1938

Rural Families on Relief - Research Monograph XVII - 1938

Rural Youth: Their Situation and Prospects - Research Monograph XV - 1938

Rural Youth - Their Situation and Prospects - Conclusions - 1938

New Deal for Youth - The National Youth Administration (NYA) - 1938

1935-05 The Drought and Current Farm Imports

1936-10-15 Report on Progress of The Works Program

Final Report on the WPA Program 1935-43

Handbook of Proceedures - 1937

Report on Progress of WPA Program - 1942

Other Information

WPA Reference Section