Survey Associates.

Survey midmonthly : journal of social work (Volume 74) online

. (page 53 of 109)
Online LibrarySurvey AssociatesSurvey midmonthly : journal of social work (Volume 74) → online text (page 53 of 109)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


their earnings in "outside employment."

That the Civilian Conservation Corps,
in addition to requiring enrollees to
work while in camp, train them to per-
form "the work they must do after
leaving camp."



So far as relief was concerned, there was no relief worthy
of the name. Poorhouses were overflowing. Evictions were
widespread. Breadlines were long, and beggars ubiquitous.

Today, though conditions are serious, we are not threat-
ened with the collapse of our economic and social structure.
There are three million fewer unemployed despite the fact
that an additional three million people have come into the
labor market since 1932.

Banks are solvent. The WPA is prepared to provide work
for close to three million heads of households ; the National
Youth Administration and the CCC are prepared to pro-
vide work and assistance to approximately a million youth
of the country. The Public Works Administration and the
federal housing program will provide work directly and
indirectly for millions more. The Farm Security Adminis-
tration will spend $175 million for direct grants to the
most needy farm families and for rehabilitation loans. Lo-
cal public agencies are furnishing direct relief or assistance
to some two million additional families. The social security
program of unemployment compensation and old age in-
surance is getting under way. A justifiable optimism that
general economic conditions will soon improve prevails
throughout the country.

To me, the brightest ray is that the people of this coun-
try, despite the feverish activities of many politicians and
Liberty Leaguers, have accepted two concepts: first, that
the problems of destitution and unemployment are federal
as well as local responsibilities; and, second, that needy men
and women, able and willing to work, unemployed through
no fault of their own, are entitled to work relief, not a dole.

In my opinion, the Works Program is an integral part
of the long range program of economic security; it is the
greatest single stride the federal government has made to-
wanls that goal since 1932.

That there are weaknesses in the Works Program I am
the first to admit. To me, the most glaring weakness is that
it cannot yet provide work for all employables who are in



need. I feel, however, that we will come to that. As unem-
ployment insurance and old age pensions develop and as busi-
ness gets on a more even keel, we will be in a better position
to plan a coordinated program for the future.

Another admitted weakness of the Works Program is
the low wages which we pay WPA workers in certain sec-
tions of the country. Thousands of our workers, I am sorry
to say, earn less than $30 a month. There is very little we
can do about this at the present time. We are committed to
the policy of paying a security monthly wage at the prevail-
ing hourly wage rate of a given community. When the
wages and hours bill is passed by Congress, then I hope the
WPA will be able to increase its wages in the lowest paid
regions accordingly.

Arguments such as these are worthy of our most serious
thought. But this is an election year and we cannot expect
that the arguments which the political "outs" will use
against the WPA program will be on so high a plane. We
know from experience that politicians, hungry for position,
do not hesitate to make capital of human misery. We know,
also from past experience, that the arguments which will
be used will be aimed at emotions rather than at reason.
We know that there will be carping at relatively minor
phases of our work; we know that facts and figures will be
distorted as they have been only too frequently in the past.

I have heard all the arguments advanced against the
Works Program. I have thought about them probably more
than any other person in the United States. When sifted
and analyzed, five arguments remain which are worthy of
consideration and discussion. Since these arguments will all
come up in one form or another during the next few months,
I will discuss each of them. Space will not permit a com-
plete discussion here ; but the vital points of each argument
can be presented.

First there is the argument of cost. Fantastic figures are
sometimes presented to show the difference in cost between
a work program and a dole. The fallacy in the argument



.'I NF. 1938



197



lies in the fact that these figures are based not so much on
the extra cost of a works program as a works program, but
rather on the higher cost of WPA wages as compared with
direct relief grants. But let no one imagine that, if we
transferred the employables now on WPA to a direct re-
lief program, the size of the individual relief grant could
remain the same. For one thing, the employable family is
on the average larger than the unemployable family now
on direct relief; for another thing the present direct relief
grant to unemployables is in many cases only a supplement
to income from other sources such as pensions ; for a third
thing, and most important, the present direct relief grant,
including all supplements, is so far short of the needs of
even an emergency standard of living, that it would have
to be raised at least to the budgetary equivalent of WPA
wages if we did not want to transform our employables
on relief into unemployables.

If we figure on direct relief grants equal in budgetary
adequacy to present WPA wages, the saving turns out to
be only 30 percent. But for this 30 percent which is spent
for materials and equipment, we have, first of all, an indi-
rect employment equivalent to about a sixth of those on the
Works Program; and we have, of course, the vast physical
accomplishments of a works program as well as the ben-
efit to the nation that comes from conserving the skills and
the morale of the unemployed.

The second argument which the dole advocates present
is that the WPA encourages an army of jobholders who
refuse private employment. Since the recession, this argu-
ment is not heard so frequently as it was a year ago, but
it keeps popping up. And as conditions get better, the argu-
ment will- come up more frequently. We have made it our
business to inquire into every case of so-called job refusals
that comes to our attention. These complaints just do not
hold water. When people are asked for specific examples
of job rejection, they usually cannot produce them. Many
complaints are third or fourth hand. So-and-so told so-and-
so that Mr. X. couldn't hire a plumber. I am yet to find
any group of WPA workers who wouldn't be happy to get
back into private industry. Some people, for a strange psy-
chological reason, like to kid themselves into believing they
cannot hire labor because of the WPA. When asked to
produce the jobs, they are not forthcoming.



The American Association of Social Workers
advocates in respect to governmental employ-
ment, social insurance and assistance programs:

The creation of a federal employment authority with broad
powers to inaugurate a flexible work program.
The establishment of national training and retraining pro-
grams.

The strengthening of the public employment services.
A system of federal grants-in-aid to states for general
assistance.

The extension of social security provisions to include groups
now excluded.

A broadening of the national health program.
Simplification of unemployment compensation legislation.
The grouping of related services in the federal administra-
tive structure.

The selection of personnel by federal, state and local gov-
ernments through a merit system.

The appointment of a federal non-partisan commission to
undertake 1 a thorough study of the whole problem of unem-
ployment and relief.



198



A third argument against the Works Program is that
the projects are not worthwhile, that there is too much
boondoggling. Let me point out that 76 percent of all
WPA money spent has gone for construction projects:
buildings, roads, streets, airports, parks and bridges. Three
percent went for sanitation and health projects and 3 per-
cent for miscellaneous physical projects. Eight percent went
for women's work projects and 10 percent went for educa-
tional, clerical and professional projects. It is the last two
types of projects at which the cry "boondoggling" is usually
directed.

If making over 100 million garments clothes, mattresses,
sheets, towels for distribution to poor people is boondog-
gling; if preparing and serving 130 million hot lunches
to undernourished school children is boondoggling; if
teaching more than one million illiterates to read and write
English is boondoggling; if providing medical and nursing
services for millions of people who are unable to pay for
such services is boondoggling; if canning and preserving
millions of pounds of food for poor families is boondog-
gling; if permitting three million persons a month to hear
good music and another million to see good plays (priv-
ileges which many of our people never had) is boondoggling
then a part of the WPA program is boondoggling.

ANOTHER argument is that there is politics in the
WPA. That minor politicians of both parties have
tried to influence, intimidate and even coerce WPA work-
ers in certain areas, I have no doubt; that these attempts
have been unsuccessful, I also have no doubt. The large
majority of American workers have too much sense to be
browbeaten by petty politicians.

I have told every WPA worker, on numerous occasions,
by letter and over the radio, that politics and the WPA
are not allied. I have asked that they report to me every
case of attempted intimidation. In a few instances we have
fired WPA supervisors and administrative personnel for
illegal political action.

It should be remembered that the WPA employs more
people than the automobile, steel and coal industries com-
bined. That infractions of rules and small chiseling will
crop up is inevitable, but the accusation of politics in the
WPA has never been substantiated and cannot be sub-
stantiated. There has been less political intimidation in the
entire WPA program than is contained in one pre-election
pay envelope of a large industrialist.

We come now to the last argument against the WPA:
that the program has built up a huge bureaucracy in Wash-
ington. This argument can be answered in three sentences.
All WPA workers are selected from the local relief rolls.
Ninety-eight percent of all WPA projects are locally con-
ceived, locally sponsored and locally supervised, by states,
counties, cities and towns. The WPA program throughout
the United States costs less than 5 percent to administer.
Less than 10 percent of the administrative personnel is in
Washington ; the remainder is in the field, and in 99 cases
out of 100, these people work where they live.

The federal government has come a long way in accept-
ing responsibility for the unemployed destitute of the na-
tion and in providing relief for them. It has come a long
way in the fight for general economic security for all ou
citizens. The program has not been worked out in its en
tirety. Five years is a short time for so enormous a job.
But we are going forward and not backward. And that is
the most encouraging sign on the present horizon.

SURVEY MIDMONTHLY



Work Relief and the Workers



By HOWARD M. TEAF, Jr.

Haverford College, Haverford, Pa.



MORE and more observers of the work relief pro-
gram are changing their center of interest from
"How soon can WPA be liquidated?" to "How
permanent is this work relief business?" or "How many
people will have to be kept on work relief indefinitely ?"

In the reexamination of WPA which such questioning
has called forth, one subject that has been slighted is the
effect of WPA employment on the occupational skills of
relief workers.

Work relief, as opposed to an outright dole, has been
justified not because it distributes more purchasing power
but because it gives the recipient employment. But it has
been basic to the whole philosophy of work relief under
WPA that employment at "any old job" was not enough.
Projects were to be so diversified in nature that the unem-
ployed would be put to work at jobs approximately the same
as their former occupations.

Through this policy of creating jobs to fit the occupa-
tions of the eligible unemployed, it was hoped to preserve
skills, to increase project efficiency, and to avoid the sug-
gestion of discipline through manual labor imposed on the
destitute regardless of former occupations.

It should have been realized at the outset that in manu-
facturing and mining areas where unemployment was most
acute, it would be practically impossible to employ the re-
lief eligibles at their usual occupations. Even in districts of
diversified industries many types of employment were be-
yond the reach of work relief projects. The three-year rec-
ord of Works Program employment has shown the fallacies
of the "usual-occupation" policy, yet even today WPA offi-
cials continue to proclaim it. Said Deputy Administrator
Aubrey Williams in March:

We should be doing the nation and industry a great dis-
service if we did not provide useful work for our unemployed
at their own trades. We believe that to be the best insurance
for the future usefulness of those workers, who, through no
fault of their own, can now find no place in private employment.

Is this determination to achieve an ideal, or is it burying
one's head in the sand ?

Until the middle of 1936 a fairly complete relief labor
inventory was maintained in most states. The last detailed
count for Pennsylvania was made in July }936. At that
time a study was made, under the writer's direction, of the
nature of WPA employment of each individual as compared
to his or her usual occupation. While this study was limited
to WPA employment in Pennsylvania, it is believed to be
fairly representative of conditions in the country as a whole.

The study covered 255,359 persons, 99.7 percent of those
then employed in WPA. Each project worker was counted
as being employed in the Works Program under one of the
following categories :

1. At his usual occupation.

2. Not at his usual occupation, but at some other occupation
within the same occupational group.

3. At an occupation outside his usual occupational group;
e.g., a tailor (skilled worker in manufacturing) working
as an unskilled laborer. In these cases, notation was made
of the group to which the worker was shifted.

JUNE 1938



This classification was made directly from the individual
employment record cards, on which former occupations had
been recorded by the employment offices. It should be noted,
however, that the usual occupation under which each per-
son was recorded was that at which he had been employed
for longer than at any other occupation during the last ten
years of private employment. Thus it is possible, for exam-
ple, that a man who had spent eight years as a salesman, and
then became an office worker, would be classified as a sales-
man, and that a major occupational shift would be recorded
when he was employed as an office worker in the Works
Program. This is an extreme example.

Examination of the table shows that, of a hundred project
workers, only about fifteen or one out of seven were work-
ing at their usual occupations. Of the others, twenty-four
were doing work similar to their usual work in nature or
skill requirements. The remaining sixty-one were at work
in what was, for them, an entirely new or at least different
occupation from that at which they had worked for any
great length of time in recent years. These figures exclude
the totally inexperienced and those for whom no "usual
occupation" was recorded.

THE table also shows that, with the exception of profes-
sional and technical workers, office workers, and inex-
perienced persons, largely housewives, there was a pro-
nounced shift to unskilled labor on the projects. The great
demand by projects for unskilled labor is further illustrated
by the fact that 70 percent of all project workers were
classified as unskilled laborers, whereas only 17 percent of
all eligible persons were classified as unskilled laborers when
originally interviewed for occupational classification.

If one believes that work relief should be of a distasteful
nature, strenuous and perhaps somewhat degrading, then
the Works Program is adequate. But if one follows the
beliefs repeatedly expressed by WPA leaders, such submerg-
ing of skills and experience is deplorable. The general shift
to unskilled labor is open to criticism on at least three major
counts: loss or deterioration of skill or facility; effect on
workers' morale; lack of preparation for return to industry.

Even though the psychological effect of work relief is
unquestionably better than that of direct relief or dole, there
is some negative reaction on the personality and attitude of
the person who, accustomed to work requiring a degree of
skill and mental application, is relegated to a job requiring
little but physical effort. This is intensified by the resent-
ment of the worker who realizes that his unemployment is
due not to personal fault, but to economic influences beyond
his control. The full effect of this upon the morale of hun-
dreds of thousands of persons throughout the country prob-
ably cannot be realized for some years.

Of course some skills are not easily lost through disuse,
even over a period of several years ; and some skills which
are now obsolescent are hardly worth retaining.

But where workers' usual occupations involved valuable
skills, the maintenance of such abilities and their further
development could hasten the return of many of the unem-
ployed to profitable private employment. Some noteworthy

199



instances of this have occurred in connection with the fed-
eral art, theatre, and writers projects; but they are not
numerous. The way to such opportunity is difficult or im-
possible for the many who have been relegated to the ranks
of the unskilled.

What conditions have caused this shift to unskilled labor?
If the blame were to be placed on inefficient project assign-
ments the shifts from lower-skill classes to higher ones
would be of approximately the same magnitude as the shifts
downward toward the unskilled classification. This is not
the case. It is the writer's belief that, on the whole, the
placement work in Pennsylvania as well as elsewhere has
been efficient, within the limits imposed.

The obvious answer lies in the nature of the projects
themselves. The greatest downward shifts, numerically,
were among those usually employed in industry, including
mining, and those usually employed as semi-skilled workers
in building and construction. Most of the WPA construc-
tion activity has been on roads, calling for few skilled and
semi-skilled laborers. Practically the only WPA "manufac-
turing" has been on the sewing projects.

The fate of unemployed factory and mine workers in a
relief program deserves much consideration if the aim is
to employ people at their usual occupations. Nothing in the
emergency relief appropriation acts forbids manufacturing
activities in the Works Program, but a storm of disapproval
would be aroused by any attempt to employ former factory
workers in manufacturing activities "in competition with
private industry" or even in manufacturing for the use of
relief clients themselves.

The same would be true of the entrance of the govern-
ment into mining operations in an endeavor to give work to
unemployed miners.

The situation can be summarized thus: The commendable
stated objective of employing persons at their usual occupa-



tions has not been achieved, due largely to the nature of the
projects; there is little hope of designing projects that will
accomplish that end, largely because of the great numbers
of unemployed factory workers and miners.

What, then, should be the aim of the work relief pro-
gram? If the employment-to-retain-skill objective is dis-
carded as impractical, shall we be content to see a consider-
able part of the population relegated to unskilled labor, re-
gardless of former productive skills and abilities?

Let us consider another possibility. Already the National
Youth Administration directs a large part of its efforts to-
ward the vocational training of young people eligible for
its benefits. Should not such training be a major part of the
general relief program? Many WPA workers now are ac-
quiring new knowledge of skills on projects far different
from their former activities. But these are the fortunate
few not demoted to the ranks of unskilled labor.

The objection may be raised that a Solomon could not
foresee future opportunities for employment and train
workers accordingly. A further difficulty is the question of
who should be trained. The youth, who have had little or
no experience in private industry? Those who formerly
worked in what are recognized as dying industries? Those
now unemployable, who are likely to become permanent
burdens on public funds? The problems are not simple. But
the idea has been put into practice on a limited scale in Eng-
land for several years in connection with unemployment
compensation, and has met with some success, particularly
in the "blighted areas."

The answer may lie not in specific trade training but in
so developing personal aptitudes as to broaden the oppor-
tunity for return to private enterprise. Possibly, also, there
should be more opportunities for developing creative leisure-
time activities. These are problems for the educators and
vocational guidance experts.



Number of Persons Employed in Works Program at Usual Occupation, at
Occupation in Same Skill-Class, and in Different Skill-Classes

Stated as percentages of total employed in Works Program, Pennsylvania June 30, 1936


Different


SKILL-CLASSES


(1)

% employed
at usual
occupation


(2)

% employed at
different
occupation
in same
class


(3) . (4)
% employed in
different
skill-classes


In all
other
classes


As un-
skilled
labor


Professional and technical workers .


50.7


22.3
0.5
23.7
0.1
11.2
0.6
3.0
9.3
67.1
0.8
0.7

23.9
22.8


27.0
98.5
48.1
99.8
56.3
98.1
91.7
85.2
8.2
95.6
96.5

61.5

100.0
100.0

63.2


8.5
54.8
25.5
42.4
47.9
76.3
80.8
75.9

41.4

87.5

45.8

6.9
65.4

46.5




1.0




28.2




0.1


Skilled workers and foremen, building and construction


32.5




1.3




5.3




5.5




24.7




1.6




2.8


ALL OCCUPATIONAL GROUPS


14.6






Occupations unknown ....







14.0






Source: Special study of 255,359 Works Program workers made by Division of Employment and Division of Finance and Statistics, WPA for Pennsylvan
of WPA in Pennsylvania," Table A-6.


ia. See "One Year



200



SURVEY MIDMONTHLY



The important point is that work-training is desirable,
if not necessary, as a substitute for skill retention. Further.
Jiat it lies within the range of the existing Works Program.
After three years of the present type of work relief, with
the end not in sight and with readjustment of objectives
ind methods clearly demanded, this phase of the unemploy-
ment problem must not be overlooked.

There is some indication that a general public works pro-
jrani without the relief emphasis is being considered some-
thing along the lines of PWA. But under such a program,
Jie "forgotten men" of manufacturing and mining would
Benefit only to the extent that they would be reemployed in
private industry if and when purchasing power speeded up
Factory and mine activity, or if they could fit into the new
ronstruction program. The first type of benefit could be
realized only under a spending program much larger than
the present one ; and employment in the new program prob-



ably would leave most of these workers just about where
they are in WPA at unskilled labor.

It may be objected that a great number (some say a ma-
jority) of present relief workers are in fact unemployable
in private industry. If this is the case it should be recognized
( 1 ) by provision for unemployables under another part of
the social security program; (2) by state relief organiza-
tions; or (3) by revision of WPA policies, admitting the
inapplicability of the usual-occupation policy, and substitu-
ting policies which provide specifically for unemployables.

Unemployed John Jones and Mary Smith are human
beings. They may or may not have possibility of future
productivity in private industry. The industries in which
they formerly worked may or may not call them back. But
they are inseparably part of our economy, as assets or liabili-



Online LibrarySurvey AssociatesSurvey midmonthly : journal of social work (Volume 74) → online text (page 53 of 109)