Roosevelt Institute Marks WPA Anniversary, Forges a New Jobs Agenda

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With the U.S. mired in another jobs crisis, experts examine the legacy and lessons of FDR's Works Progress Administration.

The WPA put 8.5 million Americans to work.

Eight decades after the Great Depression, the forgotten lessons of that period can serve as a guide in confronting many of today's greatest challenges.

78 years ago today, with the creation of the Works Progress Administration, our country embarked on a bold experiment – one that realized the true value of government in creating jobs for the American people and directing their work toward projects that would transform and strengthen the country. Now, with the U.S. mired in another historic economic crisis, the Roosevelt Institute is taking up the WPA’s banner and celebrating one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s greatest legacies.

The Roosevelt Institute will mark the 78th anniversary of the bill that launched the WPA with a series of jobs-related posts on its blog, Next New Deal. Writers from the Institute’s Four Freedoms Center think tank, its student policy organization, the Campus Network, and Pipeline, its young professionals network, will examine the WPA's lasting achievements and the lessons it offers for solving our current jobs crisis. Topics include how the WPA's success challenges the current economic orthodoxy, why today's Congress lacks the will to pursue such a bold approach, and how progressives can promote belief in the value of public investment.

“Fewer and fewer Americans may be aware of what a great debt this nation owes to this remarkable government program,” writes David Woolner, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian. “The WPA not only employed 8.5 million people, it also built much of the infrastructure we still use today.”

Accompanying the blog series will be a Twitter campaign, #wpafunfacts, highlighting some of the most eye-opening statistics and quotes about the WPA’s impact, and a Pinterest board featuring period photographs drawn from the FDR Library’s archives and other historical resources. These efforts will not only offer a window onto history but also put a human face on the program’s tremendous accomplishments.

The Roosevelt Institute is crafting a New Deal for the 21st century firmly grounded in the legacy and values of the original. Eight decades after the Great Depression, the forgotten lessons of that period can serve as a guide in confronting many of today's greatest challenges. And given last Friday’s lackluster jobs report and the austerity agenda being pushed in the halls of Congress, those lessons have never been more relevant.

“As we battle in memory of the marvelous WPA, we should keep in mind how intensely compelling laissez faire ideology is,” writes Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick, adding that the WPA itself is “is the proof that we can win. American history can be repeated.”

About the Roosevelt Institute
The Roosevelt Institute is focused on crafting a New Deal for the 21st century by building on the greatness of the past to forge a strong progressive future. Three pillars underpin this mission: generating and promoting compelling new ideas and bold long-term visions, developing the next generation of progressive leaders, and grounding today’s policy solutions in an accurate historical understanding of the Roosevelt legacy. For more information visit us at or find us on Facebook and Twitter.


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Tim Price
Roosevelt Institute
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