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Interview Transcript: Interviewers: Julia Munslow and Naryan Murthy Interviewee: Nick Taylor, author of American-Made–The Enduring

Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work Interviewers: How do you think that the New Deal was a turning point for America? Interviewee: The New Deal embraced an understanding that the federal government cannot ignore its suffering citizens but has a responsibility to them, both to help them out in time of trouble and create programs that further their welfare and security. Social Security is just one example. This turning point remains a matter of political argument today.

Interviewers: What was the most significant change brought about by the New Deal? Interviewee: Over the long term, probably Social Security, which compelled workers and employers to contribute to the old-age pension fund that today remains a major source of income to retirees and for many, the only thing between them and abject poverty. The Works Progress Administration and other New Deal building programs were significant as well, but in a different way. The WPA proved that the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes were valid -- that government spending in times of economic downtown will stimulate the economy and help it to recover. WPA workers had money to spend and their spending helped but private factories back in business. And the roads, bridges, airports, hospitals, water and sewer treatment facilities and other public buildings built by the WPA brought America's infrastructure into the 20th century, advancing transportation, public health and education, and making business easier to do and more productive. You should add the Tennessee Valley Authority into this last point, since the TVA brought electricity to a large part of rural America.

Interviewers: How did the New Deal programs change America in terms of the civil rights movement? Interviewee: Not a lot. President Roosevelt needed the votes of Southern Democrats to pass his programs and they were adamantly opposed to integration or equal rights for black Americans. This opposition prevented Roosevelt from strongly advocating anti-lynching legislation, for example. WPA jobs programs remained segregated in the South, while they were integrated in areas where integration had already happened. The Civilian Conservation Corps,

the New Deal program that put young people to work in national parks and forests, brought a lot of black and white kids together and that might not have happened otherwise, but that was in camps outside the South. If anything advanced or presaged the Civil Rights Movement, which really didn't happen until the 1960s, it was Eleanor Roosevelt's welcoming of blacks into the White House in a visible way.

Interviewers: How did the New Deal get us through the Depression compared to how World War II did? Interviewee: New Deal jobs programs helped alleviate the Depression but did not solve it. Here's an example: When Roosevelt took office the unemployment rate was almost 25 percent. By 1937, two years after the WPA was created, it was down to 14 percent because of WPA jobs and the demand created by workers spending their paychecks. At that point FDR thought the problem was solved and cut back WPA spending and employment, and unemployment shot up again, to 18 percent. The production demands of World War II, even before the United States entered the war, reduced unemployment almost entirely and finally ended the Depression.

Interviewers: How did the New Deal bring about a cultural revival of the arts? Interviewee: The WPA's art, theater, music and writing programs brought arts to the masses in a way that had never been done before. With touring theater companies and circuses, bands and orchestras, community art centers and touring exhibits, and state and city guidebooks, people who had never had access to the arts were exposed to them for the first time. Many programs were free. The New Deal thus democratized the arts and broadened its audience

immensely. That was certainly a turning point in terms of arts appreciation.