The Works Projects Administration was established on 6 May 1935. It was one of the many programs enacted by President Roosevelt as part of his "New Deal". Since it was an economic relief program, like the CCC, some of the money earned by WPA employees had to be sent to their families. Each employee was paid from $15.00 to $90.00 per month, depending on the job he or she had. Sometimes their job carried them away from their home area and in those cases the workers also received food and housing.
When the WPA began, it was called the Works Progress Administration, but in 1939 the name was changed to The Works Projects Administration, reflecting the fact that the plan was to create projects that would be useful to the people, make good use of the natural resources, as well as provide jobs during the depression. Many of the workers were unskilled laborers and were accused of being unproductive which resulted in a poor reputation. Part of this seemly idleness was due to the hiring of more workers than was really necessary. Of course, the intent was to hire as many people as funding would allow, easing the burden of the depression, and it was better than providing direct relief with no obligation to provide any service in return! One familiar term used to identify WPA workers was "We Piddle Around".
WPA labor was used by the Resettlement Administration. The Resettlement Administration relocated farmers, who were farming submarginal land, to more fertile and productive land. WPA labor was then used to revitalize the submarginal land.
WPA Labor was also used by the Rural Electrification Administration in extending power lines to farm homes not served by private utility companies.
The WPA was responsible for the National Youth Administration. The National Youth Administration built shelters to house transient young people. It not only provided shelter for homeless youth but also provided job training for sixteen to twenty-five year-olds who had dropped out of school, or graduated but could not find a job, and could not be supported by their families.
The WPA built local canneries in some very poor areas where farm wives could bring their produce and were provided all the equipment, jars, etc to "put up" their fruit and vegetables.
They also built small mattress factories where people could come and were taught how to, and made, their own mattresses with materials furnished by the WPA. Prior to this, the mattresses of many rural families had consisted of ticking stuffed with hay or straw.
Although there are those who feel that the WPA provided no useful service, the facts speak otherwise. By the end of its second year of operation, in 1937, the WPA had:
In June 1943, the WPA was phased out. In addition to the above very impressive two-year accomplishments, when it was phased out the WPA had also, on the national level:
The WPA also wrote very helpful guides to most states and counties. Many of these guides are invaluable in researching the history of towns, many of which no longer exist. These guides, such as, The WPA Guide to Mississippi and The WPA Guide to Forrest County, have been used numerous times by the compiler of this paper. Many projects completed by the WPA are used by millions of people every day, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for their accomplishments.