We are awash in idiocy in this country amongst the people who on one hand blame the elitists on Wall Street, but have all their money tied up in 401ks. IRA’s , 503bs and every other type of invest vehicle, but do not want transparency and regulation and cry when criminals and brigands steal their savings. But we hear from these same right-wing philosophers about the spending of government and the debt, but conveniently forget that Reagan tripled out National Debt, unemployment averaged almost 8% (was over 10% for two years) in his time cut taxes for the 1% and that his clones the Bush twins did worse.
As to FDR and the New Deal, expenditures on WPA projects through June 1941, totaled approximately $11.4 billion. Over $4 billion was spent on highway, road, and street projects; more than $1 billion on public buildings, including the iconic Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, and the Timberline Lodge on Oregon’s Mt. Hood; more than $1 billion on publicly owned or operated utilities; and another $1 billion on welfare projects, including sewing projects for women, the distribution of surplus commodities and school lunch projects. One construction project was the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, the bridges of which were each designed as architecturally unique. In its eight year run, the WPA built 325 firehouses and renovated 2384 of them across the United States. The 20,000 miles of water mains, installed by their hand as well, no doubt aided in a more fire protected country.
The direct focus of the WPA projects changed with need. 1935 saw projects aimed at infrastructure improvement; roads, bringing electricity to rural areas, water conservation, sanitation and flood control. In 1936, as outlined in that year’s Emergency Relief Appropriations Act, public facilities became a focus; parks, buildings, utilities, airports, and transportation projects were funded. The following year, saw the introduction of agricultural pursuits in projects such as the production of marl fertilizer and the eradication of fungus pests. As the Second World War approached, and then eventually began, WPA projects became increasingly defense related.
The PWA spent over $6 billion in contracts to private construction forms that did the actual work. It created an infrastructure that generated national and local pride in the 1930s and remains vital seven decades later. The PWA was much less controversial than its rival agency with a confusingly similar name, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), headed by Harry Hopkins, which focused on smaller projects and hired unemployed unskilled workers.
More than any other New Deal program, the PWA epitomized the progressive notion of “priming the pump” to encourage economic recovery. Between July 1933 and March 1939 the PWA funded and administered the construction of more than 34,000 projects including airports, large electricity-generating dams, major warships for the Navy, and bridges, as well as 70% of the new schools and one-third of the hospitals built between 1933–1939.
Streets and highways were the most common PWA projects, as 11,428 road projects, or 33% of all PWA projects, accounted for over 15% of its total budget. School buildings, 7,488 in all, came in second at 14% of spending. PWA functioned chiefly by making allotments to the various Federal agencies; making loans and grants to state and other public bodies; and making loans without grants (for a brief time) to the railroads. For example it provided funds for the Indian Division of the CCC to build roads, bridges and other public works on and near Indian reservations.
The PWA became, with its “multiplier-effect” and first two-year budget of $3.3 billion (compared to the entire GDP of $60 billion), the driving force of America’s biggest construction effort up to that date. By June 1934 the agency had distributed its entire fund to 13,266 federal projects and 2,407 non-federal projects. For every worker on a PWA project, almost two additional workers were employed indirectly. The PWA accomplished the electrification of rural America, the building of canals, tunnels, bridges, highways, streets, sewage systems, and housing areas, as well as hospitals, schools, and universities; every year it consumed roughly half of the concrete and a third of the steel of the entire nation.
Some of the most famous PWA projects are the Triborough Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel in New York City, the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state, the longest continuous sidewalk in the world along 6½ miles of Bayshore Blvd. in Tampa, Florida, and the Overseas Highway connecting Key West, Florida, to the mainland. The PWA also electrified the Pennsylvania Railroad between New York and Washington, DC. At the local level it built courthouses, schools, hospitals and other public facilities that remain in use in the 21st century.
So what troglodyte or mental midget would reject the reality of those accomplishments?