Established in 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was one of the most ambitious federal jobs programs ever created in the U.S. At its peak, the program provided work for almost 3.5 million Americans, employing more than 8 million people across its eight-year history in projects ranging from constructing public buildings and roads to collecting oral histories and painting murals. The story of the WPA provides a perfect entry point into the history of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the early years of World War II, while its example remains relevant today as the debate over government's role in the economy continues.
In this concise narrative, supplemented by primary documents and an engaging companion website, Sandra Opdycke explains the national crisis from which the WPA emerged, traces the program's history, and explores what it tells us about American society in the 1930s and 1940s. Covering central themes including the politics, race, class, gender, and the coming of World War II, The WPA: Creating Jobs During the Great Depression introduces readers to a key period of crisis and change in U.S. history.
Sandra Opdycke has written a concise and highly readable book about how the Works Progress Administration gave hope and a modicum of security to millions of Americans during the depths of the Great Depression. She also shows why this crucial but underappreciated component of the New Deal remains instructive today. The history of the WPA reminds us that government can help to solve our biggest problems, that a successful economy provides a decent life for all, and that every American deserves a chance to contribute to society.
Chad Alan Goldberg, author of Citizens and Paupers: Relief, Rights, and Race, from the Freedmen's Bureau to Workfare
1 Facing the Crisis: The New Deal Takes Hold
2 Making Jobs the Priority: The WPA’s Construction Projects
3 A Thousand Useful Tasks: The WPA’s Service Projects
4 Even Artists Get Hungry: Federal One Brings Culture to the People
5 The WPA on the Roller-Coaster: Politics and Funding
6 The WPA Under Fire: Challenges in Peace and War
7 Remembering the WPA: Legacy and Lessons