Projects of the Works Progress Administration - Overview - 1936

Certain fundamental factors have governed the selection of projects prosecuted under the WPA. One primary consideration has been to create jobs sufficiently diverse to fit the varied abilities of from two to three million employable persons in need of relief. This required selection of projects in the various communities which were adapted, as far as possible, to the occupational training of available laborers.

Another factor was the necessity of using the available manpower on projects genuinely benefiting the communities where they were sponsored. In some cases the work has taken the form of constructing permanent buildings and other facilities or reconditioning existing structures and equipment. Although this work was highly desirable, it could not have been performed without the aid extended by the WPA.

In other cases projects have provided cultural opportunities to a large number of needy citizens. Since practically all WPA projects are proposed and sponsored by local authorities, the WPA undertakings serve both the needs and desires of the communities where they are operated.

Since a large majority of all employable workers on relief rolls are unskilled laborers, projects requiring the services of highly skilled or technical labor to any considerable extent received little emphasis under the WPA program. Most of the projects selected for operation were necessarily of the types which provide employment for large numbers of unskilled workers. For this group certain types of highway, road, and street projects, conservation, public utility, sanitation and health, and recreational projects have been found suitable.

Although not nearly so numerous as the unskilled group, a large number of skilled and semiskilled workers were certified by local relief agencies as eligible for employment under the Works Program. Employment for these workers has been provided by many of the types of projects listed above, and more particularly by public buildings projects.

Professional and technical persons composed another group of unemployed persons in need of relief. It is primarily for these persons that white collar projects have been instituted.

Another group was composed of approximately half a million women who are heads of relief families. With the exception of women suited to employment on white collar projects, their abilities were not such as could be utilized to any considerable extent on the types of projects mentioned above. Consequently goods projects (for the most part sewing projects) were initiated for these workers.

Table of Data Showing Number of Persons Employed, Hours, and Earnings on WPA Projects

Table of Data Showing Number of Persons Employed, Hours, and Earnings on WPA Projects, by Types of Projects for the Semi-Monthly Period Ending 15 August 1936. Note: Miscellaneous Line Item Includes Work Camps. GGA Image ID # 127d44c107

Percentage Distribution of Employment, Hours and Earnings on WPA Construction and Non-Construction Projects

Percentage Distribution of Employment, Hours and Earnings on WPA Construction and Non-Construction Projects For the Semi-Monthly Period Ending 15 August 1936. Note: Non-Constrution Line Item Includes White Collar Projects, Goods Projects, Forestation, Sanitation and Health, Distribution of Surplus Commodities. GGA Image ID # 127d5c83f2

Individual projects of each type included under the WPA program were selected not only on the basis of their suitability for providing the proper types of jobs but also in view of other carefully considered factors. These factors include the proximity of the project site to the supply of relief labor, the proportion of total costs that sponsors were willing to assume, and the proportion of Federal funds to be expended directly for wages of persons in need of relief.

There was need also to make certain that the work involved did not displace regular employees of local governmental bodies, that engineering plans for all construction projects were sound, and that the work on all projects in each community was so scheduled as to insure operation of a sufficiently diverse work program at rill seasons of the year.

Local project sponsors and the Federal Government have provided funds jointly for the operation of WPA projects. Sponsors pledged more than 18 Percent of the estimated cost of projects selected through April 15, 1936. Eighty-six percent of the sponsors' funds are being spent for materials-, supplies, and equipment, and other non-labor costs. Federal funds are used predominantly (7 8 percent) for meeting payrolls. Out of each $100 made available for WPA projects $36 goes for the repair and construction of highways, roads, and streets, $13 for improvement to parks and other recreational facilities, and $12 for work on public buildings. Funds for sewer, systems and other utilities projects, white collar projects, and goods projects accounted for $10, $9, and $8, respectively, of the $100. Smaller amounts are being expended for conservation, sanitation and health, and airport and other transportation projects.

The emphasis that is being placed upon the various types of projects is indicated by the distributions of employment, hours worked, and earnings en WPA projects during the first half of August 1936. Highway, road, and street projects account for about a third of the WPA program. Approximately 10 percent of total WPA activity takes place on each of five types of projects, i.e., public buildings, sewer systems and other utilities, recreational facilities, white collar projects, and goods projects. The remaining types are substantially less important.

Graph of All WPA Projects Showing Comparison of Materials Etc. and Wages & Salaries Paid by WPA Funds or by Sponsors' Funds.

Graph of All WPA Projects Showing Comparison of Materials Etc. and Wages & Salaries Paid by WPA Funds or by Sponsors' Funds. GGA Image ID # 127db82cf4

The majority of the projects operated under the WPA are of the construction type which provided about 70 percent of total WPA employment during the first half of August. New construction accounted for somewhat less than half, and the remainder consisted of repair and improvement work. Highway, road, and street work predominated among the construction projects, as indicated in the accompanying table. The non-construotion group consists for the most part of white collar, forestation, sanitation and health, and women's projects.

The accompanying chart shows how the hours worked on different types of WPA projects were distributed during the period from October 1935 to August 15, 1936. Not until December 1935 had the program expanded to quota levels in many States and, as a result, the early distribution of hours among different kinds of projects was influenced by the types of projects given particular emphasis in those areas where the WPA program first got under way.

One of these areas was New York City, where park work has always occupied a leading position, hence the early stress on this work in the country's average. Another factor tending to make early operations of the WPA program somewhat different from those of later months was the comparative ease with which certain types of projects could be started. Work which required less extensive planning, and the use of a relatively small amount of equipment and materials, could be initiated promptly. Thus, after the drive to provide WPA jobs during November, employment on highway, road, and street projects represented a greater share of the total WPA program than during subsequent months.

White collar, goods, and public buildings projects have increased in importance since the early months of the program. These increases have come about mainly as offsets to the early over-emphasis accorded highway, road, and street projects and conservation work.

Average hourly earnings of persons employed on WPA projects varied among the types of projects according to their concentration in regions of high or low prevailing wage rates and according to the extent to which highly skilled or technical workers were employed on the projects. WPA workers have averaged 44 cents per hour during the operation of the program.

The higher hourly earning on white collar projects and on public buildings projects (averaging 60 cents and 55 cents, respectively) may be attributed to the fact that large proportions of persons employed on these types of work were skilled, technical and professional workers and to the concentration of these projects in urban centers where higher rates are paid.

Average Hourly Earnings on Wpa Projects, by Types of Projects

Average Hourly Earnings on Wpa Projects, by Types of Projects - 1 October 1935 to 15 August 1936 Exclusive of Work Camps. GGA Image ID # 128055b1b7

Distribution of Hours Worked on Wpa Projects by Types of Projects

Distribution of Hours Worked on Wpa Projects by Types of Projects - October 1935 to August 1936. Note: Hours Include a Relatively Small Number of Hours Credited in Addition to Hours Actually Worked During the Period. GGA Image ID # 128069e9cc

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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

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