Works Progress Administration
also called the WPA

1935 - 1943

Works Progress Administration, also called the WPA, was a United States government agency created in 1935 to provide paying jobs for unemployed workers. Most of these workers had lost their jobs during the Great Depression, a worldwide economic slump that began in 1929. The WPA was part of the New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's program of economic recovery during the depression. In 1939, the WPA was renamed the Work Projects Administration. Before the WPA was disbanded in 1943, it had provided some employment for about 8˝ million people.

Many WPA projects involved construction work. The agency hired workers to build roads, bridges, parks, airport runways, public swimming pools, and county fairgrounds. Most of these workers were men who were the sole wage earners in their families.

The WPA also created jobs in the arts. The agency hired actors, artists, musicians, and writers to produce stage plays, concerts, paintings, and post office murals. WPA writers created a series of books that recorded the histories of hundreds of American communities. Some WPA writers interviewed former black American slaves to record their memories.

Critics of the WPA charged that many of its projects involved work that did not really need to be done. But Roosevelt and his administrators believed that offering unemployed workers jobs and wages was better for the workers' morale than was simply giving them welfare checks.

Contributor: William W. Bremer, Ph.D., Prof. of History, Lawrence Univ.


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