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THREE YEARS OF WPA PROFESSIONAL

BY GRACE ADAMS

HE news from Washington early last June, that Congress would soon increase the allotments of the Works Progress Administration, made perplexing reading for those of us who still ding, though now a little hesitantly, to a tradition that was once known quite unambiguously as "liberal." A person whose "social conscience" is a matter of flexible, humanitarian convictions rather than of fixed party policies could hardly share the rabid New Dealers' jubilation over this "victory" of their principles-for by then it was becoming plain that many WPA dollars which had been intended to feed and clothe the needy had been put to far less worthy uses. Yet no one whose memory of the bleak early years of the depression was still clear could join with a dear' conscience in the bitter denunciations of the financial Tories-for pointing that memory and keeping it sharp was the thought of some million desperate, but once proud and competent men and women who were destitute by 1935 and who might still, but for the generous gesture of a benevolent government, be subsisting meagerly and shamefully upon municipal charity. Perhaps WPA funds have been spent inefficiently, perhaps in some localities WP A officials are not unlearned in political chicanery; still it was "primarily" for the benefit of the "skilled" and "professional" persons who had been "deprived of their means of livelihood by forces beyond their control" that the basic the-

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ories of WP A, as opposed to those of all other relief agencies, were firstpromulgated. And whenever during the past three topsy-turvy economic years the cry has gone up from'those who must eventually pay their bills that the "white-collar projects" have been needlessly expensive, there have come from 'Washington such reassurances as these: "We think our projects are worthwhile and that the people who are working on them may take a workman's proper pride in their achievement. . . . If the men are to b"e given useful, productive work in which they may take a genuine satisfaction, money must be provided for equipment and materials. . . . Our primary concern has been with the workers themselves ... maintaining their morale and skills." Now, to a kindhearted, liberal-minded person actually doing useful and productive work of which he can be genuinely proud-that is, to one who still derives his livelihood from that free, splendid world known to WP A workers, often only by hearsay, as "private industry"-these few simple sentences make good sense. They also seem ample justification for any blunders and extravagances that an organization so huge and so experimental may perpetrate. But to the white-collar project worker himself, automatically signing his identification number to a time sheet four times a day and furtively cashing his ear-marked emergency relief check once a week, such words as "pro-

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ductive," "useful," "genuine," "skill," "achievement," "morale," and "pride" evoke a disturbing and nostalgic emotion -the same feeling that comes to him when he happens to remember the home that he mortgaged or the possessions that he pawned in the hope that he would soon be a self-supporting citizen once more. The white-collar relief worker remembers the year of 1935 too-and the five pinched and despairing years that went before it-much more lastingly than the rest of us do. He remembers the bewildered wonder with which he read those first heartening dispatches coming out from Washington and realized that the national government was preparing to do for him the one thing that at that time no past employer, no well-meaning relative, no local charity was able to do. It was-going to make him an "independcnt" and a "useful" citizen once more. It was going to see that whatever aptitudes he possessed should not become finally dulled through disuse, and that the last remnants of his self-respect should no longer be tattered by the regretful refusals of employment agencies and the grudging concessions of relief investigators. He was going to be allowed to work again. He was going to be given a job so well worth doing that the government itself was ready to pay him "going wages" to perform it. It turned out though that after he had tramped dazedly from one hastily assembled WP A office to another, answered the same questions over and over again, stood impatiently in line for days, and waited anxiously at home for weeks, he was not given a job at all. He was given a slip of flimsy paper containing a complex numeral, which he learned to call a "dogtag" but which was known officially as a Project Assignment Number. In case the distinction between a job and a project assignment seems as obscure and unimportant to the person who reads about it to-day as it did to the project assignee himself three years ago, that distinction must be made clear. No one who does not understand it can possibly

understand the unique position of the white-collar WP A worker or the most significant and obvious factors concerning him-why he is a favorite target for both radio jokes and communistic propaganda and why also private industry even in its comparatively recuperative months, during 1936 and 1937, persistently refused to re-employ him. Behind the technic of work-by-projects lies a definite philosophy, quickly discernible to anyone familiar with the trends which American pedagogy and psychiatry have followed during the past three decades. Behind it too lies the compromise of one of the most humanitarian of all utopian dreams with the immediate exigencies of politics and economics. II The dream-which according to rumor came to Mr. Harry Hopkins and Mr . Aubrey Williams simultaneously in a dining car of the Pennsylvania Railroadwas that the money which the Roosevelt Administration was prepared to spend in helping industry to recover could be more widely distributed by diverting it, temporarily, to the altogether worthy purpose of "maintaining the morale and skills" of the most deserving among the nation's unemployed. The national government would interview its jobless men and women, determine the type of work they could do best, and pay them for performing just such work until private industry, through the impetus given it by the spending of their salaries, would be ready to re-employ them. The realities with which this dream has had to contend have been so numerous that few were understood until the works program was well under way; many have not become clear to WP A officials even now. The greatest, however, was apparent before the original idea was put before Congress. The aptitudes of the unemployed had been as various as the industries and professions that had once employed them. They hadbeen salesmen, justices of the peace, paperhangers, electricians, school-

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teachers, dentists, real estate agents, milliners, machine operators, tailors, furriers, actors, plumbers, plasterers, clergymen, architects, butchers, officemanagers, commercial travelers, reporters, nurses, welders, barbers, dressmakers, laundrymen, and everything else that several million once self-supporting individuals could have been. To have kept all of them proficient at the only trades they knew the Administration would have had to go into business with a vengeance and become a rich and suffocating rival of the very industries it was attempting to revive. This was obviously impossible. So the first requirement for relief work was that it should in no way compete with any other work then being done throughout the nation. The unemployed were to be put back to work-but at tasks which, by commercial and narrowly practical standards, should be valueless. With the manual laborers this requirement raised no great difficulties. In every community throughout the nation there were roads that needed leveling, parks that needed sprucing up, public buildings that needed improvements. So during 1935 almost two million persons, in large cities as well as country neighborhoods, were set to work with rake and shovel and trowel. And there for the purpose of this article they must be left-to the ministrations of the politicians and the mercies of the cartoonists; for like the originators of the WP A program our "primary" concern is with the seven hundred thousand men and women who during the past three years have been employed on white-collar projects. "We don't think," said administrator Aubrey Williams, "a good musician should be asked to turn second-rate laborer in order that a sewer may be laid for relative permanency rather than a concert given for the momentary pleasure of our people." And neither, by implication and WP A's specific design, should anyone who had ever mani pulated a slide rule or carried a brief case or pounded a typewriter or served goods or food across a counter, be asked to perform

the only kind of work that in our day is known as "manual." Intellectually this was a high ideal. Yet considered in strictly practical terms, what exactly is "work" whose ultimate objective is neither permanency, nor monetary value, but momentary pleasure? It is not, as 'WPA's most callous critics insist on calling it, plain loafing. It is exactly what the WP A officialshave officially designated it-a "cultural project." Though these officialshave made "project" one of the most commonly used nouns in our contemporary vocabulary, it was not they who first took this word, which for centuries had referred, and by definition should refer, to an indefinite future, and by persistent repetition made it descriptive of activities already performed. This had been done for them by the designers of that most typically American of pedagogical philosophiesprogressive education. When the fortunate youngsters of the newer education imitate for their transitory enjoyment, and under the benevolent guidance of their teachers, the actions which their elders execute for more remote and ulterior ends-daubing with paints, modeling with clay, organizing toy bands, printing two-page newspapers, building make-believe boats, and dramatizing their own imaginative thoughtsthey are never described as accomplishing individual tasks; they are always said to be working collectively upon a project. And so are the seven hundred thousand men and women in WPA's professional division, whether their activities concern painting murals, asking housewives about their budgets, taking measurements of historical buildings, making scrapbooks of the Sunday rotogravures, acting in circuses, playing in dance orchestras, or compiling bibliographies and translating scientific treatises that no commercial publisher will ever print. Some activities such as band concerts and vaudeville performances lend themselves naturally to the project method and, therefore, seem to be carried on under WPA sponsorship in the same way

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that they are conducted in the commercial world. Yet even when such normally sedentary and solitary occupations as research work and literary composition are adopted by WPA, they too are not only blessed with the terminology of progressive education but infused with its bustling spirit of collective activity. And it is only by keeping in mind the essentially restless, squirming atmosphere of the play-schools that an intelligent and competent individual outside the WPA can possibly understand how similar persons within the WPA feel about the projects upon which they are required to spend six or five or three hours a day in return for their $17, $19, or $22 weekly checks. If, for instance, you live in an urban community you have probably read in your newspapers that a WPA educational project is helping the backward children in your city's schools to read or spell or add more proficiently. Since you are familiar with the established custom of "coaching" you believe that you understand what the project workers are doing. The truth is though that from what you have read in the paper you know very little of the project itself. You know only its "service angle" -that fractional part of it which has been "written up to show" by the assistant professor of education or the assistant grade-school principal who for reasons of his own "sponsored" it-for the precise purpose that it has already served: that of attracting the approving attention of intelligent persons like yourself. The fortunate young women who do the actual teaching are comparatively so few that if they were all dismissed to-morrow their absence would scarcely be noticed except by the most turbulently union-minded of their fellow-workers. The real project is composed of hundreds of men and women who never except by accident see a school child. These are research workers, who were once bank tellers, civil engineers, lawyers, jewelers, automobile salesmen, grocery clerks, but who now sit day after day in crowded rooms copying in neat rows the number of two-letter, three-let-

ter, and four-letter words appearing in a certain standard primer, which another group of research workers will correlate with similar word-lists which still other "units" of research workers have already compiled from other primers. These people are collectively performing tasks that seem as remote to them as they do to you from the simple business of teaching stupid little boys and girls to learn their lessons more quickly, but whichto the WPA officials are extremely valuable tasks because they keep so many men and women signing the time sheet four times a day. It is the same way when at your lending library you come across one of the slim brochures of information which from time to time the cultural projects have put out. This again is a "service" byproduct of the organic project itself, written by a special group for a special purpose. It may tell you many interesting facts about the community in which you live or the countryside you hope to visit on your next vacation. It does not tell you what will eventually become of the millions of words which are being copied into blue and yellow [arms, checked, recopied, classified, and filed away. When you hear that one white-collar project in your community is accompanying school children to historic shrines and another is helping foreigners to learn English, you do not know, because no one has thought it necessary to tell you, that in order that the projects may operate, the "teachers" and "counselors" assigned to them must spend a large pan of their time begging grade-school teachers to lend them their charges for a few hours each month, or cajoling Italian, Greek, and Finnish housewives, who have already learned how best to placate relief investigators, into exchanging the fluency of their native tongues for a few clipped sentences of tabloid English. And if you have been caught up in the enthusiasms of those who declare that the few murals and canvases which the WP A has exhibited in strategic cities would seem to justify the millions it has spent on

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its art projects, you probably do not realize that out of all those millions the men and women who actually painted those pictures received no more for their work (in some cities considerably less) than the thousands of persons who have become "artists' merely by official classification, and who block in the charts and copy the inspirational posters and slogans that adorn all WP A offices. The persons who are now employed upon the white-collar projects are pot of course the care-free, tenderly nurtured children ifor whose "momentary pleasure" the technic of progressive education was first devised. They are grown men and women who before WP A put them back to work had to submit to the most humiliating experience of their livesthat of confessing to a public social worker, as well as to themselves, that they could no longer, unaided, make a living. So unlike the fortunate youngsters of the play schools; the WP A workers did not "create" their own projects, or even choose those at which they would work; they were "requisitioned" to them by a process of mobilization which was numerically as precise, and very nearly as arbitrary, as that which had conscripted the American Expeditionary Forces eighteen years earlier.
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III

Even if the WPA officials' initial hope of making their work program conform to the specific abilities of the millions of unemployed hadnot been scotched by the Administration's non-competitive promise to business, their secondary hope, that each needy worker might be "interviewed' by a committee especially qualified to pass upon his training and qualifications," would have given way before the flood of relief dollars in 1935. When a requisition came to a local relief office for ten, fifty, a hundred, or a thousand white-collar workers, the hardpressed, poorly paid "employment officer" there, whose job up till now had been mostly nominal, did-the very best that he could. Within the requisite number of

days he supplied the requisite number of workers by having his assistants go through his files and select from them those "clients" whose own unverified descriptions of themselves seemed to qualify them for the assignments. If during the next week after this particular requisition was officially closed, this same employment officer happened to interview personally a dozen persons who were especially fitted for the work to which he had already assigned hundreds of untrained and inexperienced people, there was nothing that he or anyone else could do about it. And if, when the next requisition was open, he was obliged to send these same competent persons to more menial and less well paid tasks, there was nothing that could be done about that either. "We do not think," said Aubrey Williams, "a good musician should be asked to turn second-rate laborer." And yet the only musician employed by WPA of whom the world at large has heard is the Italian boy whose hand-pick was hacking the pavements of New York the morning before an audition at the Hippodrome won him the title role in "Pagliacci." Ralph M. Easly, of the National Civic Federation, claims to have definite proof that only twenty-one per cent of the persons employed on the Federal Writers Project in New York City ever wrote for a living, or saw a line of their own composition in print. Yet when this same project went into operation in 1935 a widely known author of light verse and children's stories could not join it because two months before, when she was first requisitioned to work relief, she had confessed to an expert knowledge of stenography and was, therefore, classified irrevocably as a clerk. Thus, even in the first flush months of governmental spending, the fine free ideals of progressive education were bent to the precise implementation of military conscription. Soon they were forced to bow even deeper to legislative economics. When the principles of the Works Progress Administration were first promul-

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gated in 1.934it seemed that the depth of the depression must surely have been reached. When Congress approved th the next spring, industrial recovery seemed so near that the money for "maintaining the morale and skills" of the temporarily unemployed was appropriated for only six months' time; since then the money for WP A's continuance has been doled out for the same short periods. By November I, 1935, all the millions of dollars ear-marked for work relief had ale ready been allocated to the thousands of projects which claimed it. On that date WP A closed its employment offices. But Congress, like the WPA officials, had depended upon business charts rather than upon the independent temper of the American people. When the Emergency Relief Act of 1935 was passed in April, America had indeed reached the depth of its depression; and more capable and ambitious persons were out of work than ever before. Yet local relief rolls had not yet registered the final desperate plight of the nation's unemployed. As late as 1936 hundreds of thousands of American families, though in actual want, were still too proud to apply for the munificent bounties which they still considered "charity." Social workers from allover the country can offer good evidence that among these "doubly underprivileged," who were denied WP A employment because they had not publicly declared themselves indigent by November, 1935. were thousands of men and women who were exceptionally worthy of places on the whitecollar projects. Yet. even as with the WP A manual workers. our primary concern is not with them, but with the seven hundred thousand comparatively fortunate persons who, because of actual destitution, or from canny foresight, were ale ready on local relief rolls when WP A was inaugurated and were given white-collar assignments on it. Fortunate they are, as to the size of their weekly checks; yet the same legislative finances that have disqualified many of the unemployed for any kind of work relief, have kept these seven

hundred usand continually jittery about the jobs they now hold. Fr the rly spring of 1936 till that of 19 ~ WPA's allocations were not increased, but continually curtailed. During that period there was scarcely a month when the newspapers did not carry announcements of reductions in the WPA rolls; and never a day when rumors of such reductions were not being whispered about, discussed, and trembled over in all white-collar projects. For work relief firing, like work relief hiring, cannot take account of individual needs; it must be done in strict conformity to fixed and predetermined numbers. The relief worker has no way of knowing in advance how large the next reduction will be, or where it will strike, yet always there is the chance that it may strike him. The recent larger appropriations for work relief will perhaps quell these anxieties for a while. But as soon as the Works Progress Administration is again forced by Congress to economize, rumors of dismissals will again sweep the projects, and a person who was requisitioned in I938IWilllearn to share, with those who have been white-collar workers for more than three years, the perpetual dread of finding a pink slip in his envelope-and of having to admit, in finality and despair, that the government, like private industry, no longer has any use for whatever competence he once possessed. IV Though this persistent, morbid concern over' dismissals may be a state of mind difficult for an outsider to comprehend completely, what is forcibly apparent to anyone who visits a white-collar project for even a half hour, is the number of exceptionally young, seemingly befuddled, and obviously infirm persons employed upon it. The deliberate weighting of the white-collar projects with boys and girls who reached working age after the depression had hit us in earnest and were therefore unable to find jobs commensurate with their educa-


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tional attainments; with housewives who had neither special training nor any vocational experience; with men past the retirement age in most industries; and with persons whose physical afflictions had rendered them unfit for manual labor, was in line with WPA's broad policy of psychiatric idealism. For surely a nation which was preparing to spend billions on the rehabilitation of those among its citizens who were, supposedly, only temporarily unemployed, could afford a few hundred thousands for those for whom private industry would never again have a place or to whom it had not yet given the chance of earning a living. Yet the psychological result of this generous and compassionate gesture has been far from salutary. Not only has it bred skepticism in regard to the value of work which can be no more adequately performed by persons of exceptional training and ability than by boys and girls fresh from high school, by men so deaf that an expert at sign language must translate their instructions to them each morning, and women so palsied that a special clerk has to transcribe their almost illegible notes each afternoon; more than this, the inclusion of inexperienced and (to put it bluntly) incapacitated persons upon projects originally planned for skilled and competent workers tended to inject the concept of permanency into an organization that was intended to be temporary. Like the originators of the WP A, the experienced men and women whom it originally employed looked upon work relief as a stop-gap to private employment. But from the beginning the confused middle-aged women, the feeble old men, the persons who are crippled or afflicted with slight but definite neuroses, have hoped fervently, though always anxiously and suspiciously, that WP A's weekly bounties will continue at least as long as they live, while the young people who have never worked before and who know no other working standards except those which WP A has imposed on them are determined to make it last as long as they want it to. To them work relief is

neither a stepping-stone to other employment nor a final refuge from an unkind world. It is a vocation which, by great good luck, they were able to enter at a particularly precarious time and which they have no intention of quitting for less lucrative or more laborious occupations. To distinguish between those who were once able to regard WP A work as temporary and those whose highest hope and most articulate objective is to make it permanent, we have to go back to the early months of 1937, when for a while business seemed to be recovering from its doldrums. Private industry was beginning to re-employ again, Home Relief rolls were shrinking, but the personnel of the WPA changed noticeably only by blanket dismissals dictated by economy. The National Re-employment Service decided to take a hand in the matter and see if it could not put the most competent of the WP Aers back into private work. Little was heard of this effort in the outside world, for little came of it; after the NRS's intensive drive was over the WPA rolls were as big as they had been before; private industry had refused to hire people from the work-relief ranks. But announcement of the proposed drive made a stir in WP A offices. Orders went out that all project work should be stopped (as it is always stopped when there is anything else that the project workers might possibly do) until the NRS had carefully interviewed all workers to see what private jobs they might be qualified to fill. Two young women received the news at the same time with markedly different reactions. Miss A had come to New York before the depression, bringing with her a much younger sister. Through recommendations from her former employer in the Middle West she easily found work as private secretary to the president of a wholesale clothing firm. She supported herself and her sister and paid for the latter's schooling. In 1933 the clothing concern failed and the two girls, who had neither savings nor relatives to tide them over until Miss A could get another job,


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I'm no stenographer; I'm a teacher. They won't make me work any 8 hours a day for $14 a week!" She was right; they didn't. Nor did they offer a job to Miss A. And after the re-employment drive was over Miss A had a new item to add to her credo about signing the time sheet right being the only thing that counts. This was: "If you ever want a real job again never let anyone know that you have been on WPA." For persons like Miss A the failure of the NRS to persuade private employers to take them back to work meant the confirmation of a dread that had been becoming more certain whenever they had sought other jobs-that to the real world of industrial efficiency a WP A assignment number was a badge of failure and incompetence. Since then, as nothing has occurred to dissipate this dread, the psychological distinction between the once efficient workers and those who are inexperienced or incapable has grown increasingly dim. As their hopes of obtaining outside jobs recede, the men and women who once held such jobs with pride and competence begin to identify their own futures with those of the WP A; and like those who are lame or old or sickly, they too begin to trust that work relief will continue. And dominating all the rest is the one truly articulate group of WPA workers, whose attitude is tainted neither by the pitiful gratitude of the infirm nor the frustrated resentment of the once competent: the young people who share Miss B's philosophy and who have organized the WP A unions with the announced intention of treating the United States Government as their permanent employer. That the recipients of charity should have the temerity to band together for the specific purpose of striking against and bargaining with the dispensers of that charity strikes most rational observers as an idea which even W. S. Gilbert might have found fantastic. Yet the relation between the white-collar unions and WP A officialdom is neither so innocent nor nearly so amusing as a Savoy libretto.

were forced to apply for relief. Because of her ability Miss A was immediately set to work as a typist in the relief office at $17 a week, upon which the girls lived until 1935, when WPA went into effect and Miss A was transferred to a "cultural project." "That," she remembers thinking naively, "would be just wonderful. I could do work that was worth while and really interesting." But because she had been classified as a typist in the relief office, she has remained a typist on \tVPA and at the same salary; only now instead of typing case histories she types long sheets of numbers, of the significance of which she has not until this day the slightest inkling. Miss B, during the three years she has been receiving $120 a month for working 21 hours a week on an educational project, has lived with her family. Though this is the first paying position she has ever held, after her graduation from high school in 1930 she was able to attend a local college for a year and a half, study for six months in a private secretarial school, and spend another year at a conservatory in another city. She joined the WPA during those early months of 1935 when the mobilization of the whitecollar projects was so frenzied that an application for local relief was often accepted as a defini te test of need. Thus she escaped the indignities of a home investigation; and because she described herself calmly and confidently as a teacher, she was not only accepted as such but made "head teacher" over several dozens of men and women, all of whom were her superiors in age, education, experience, or proved earning ability. When the news of the re-employment drive reached the projects, Miss A was hopeful. "If they'll only get me a real job again," she said, "I don't care what they pay me or what I have to do-just so I can leave this outfit where signing the time sheet right is the only thing that really counts." Miss B had different ideas. "Why, if they find out I can type," she thought, "they might put me to work in an office.

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An Administration which has gone on record as favoring private industrial unions can scarcely deny the right of organization to persons who are doing work which this same Administration insists is both "useful" and "productive." Though the WPA officials are unable to increase the wages of its relief workers beyond the amounts allotted to them by Congress, they can, as they have frequently done, reduce the working hours of any project that "bargains" noisily enough. Furthermore, the official WP A attitude toward the return of its employees to private industry is much closer to Miss B's contempt than Miss A's eagerness. Miss A said that if she could get a "real job" once more she didn't care what she would have to do or what she was paid. The official instruction on that problem is that an individual shall not voluntarily leave WP A except for a full-time job at "standard or going rates of pay." Indeed, a man must feel very sure both of himself and of his future before he quits the relative security of governmental patronage for the heady independence of private employment. Theoretically he can return to work relief if "through no fault of his own" his outside job collapses; actually, congressional economics and ever-changing relief restrictions make re-employment on WP A an extremely precarious matter. When Mr. Easly made public his charge that only twenty-one per cent of the personnel of the' Federal Writers Project had ever written for publication, Mr. Henry Alsberg, that project's director, answered him not by contradictory statistics but with a list of distinguished literary names that had been signed to WPA pay rolls. It happened that the first novelist he mentioned, and probably the best known of them all, had for more than a year been trying in vain to get back the job of "assistant writer" on the American Guidebook which he had resigned temporarily, or so he thought, in order to complete a book of his own. The novel was finished, but neither pub-

lished nor contracted for; and its author was penniless. Yet, because of new and more stringent regulations, he was firmly barred from the WP A rolls.

v
It is in obeying certain inflexible rules, which in an organization so vast must often seem arbitrary, that the young people on WP A have such a tremendous psychological advantage over their more experienced elders. Since relief work is the' only kind of work that thousandsof boys and girls, and still other thousands of middle-aged and elderly women, have ever known, they accept its. peculiar restrictions with ease and without question. But in complying with certain regulations, the breaking of which would immediately cost them their jobs, men and women who have been trained to industrial efficiency find themselves changing and unmaking habits which it took them years to learn. There is, for example, the matter of promptness. This is a virtue as necessary on a project as in a department store or a school house-yet within the WP A it is promptness in reverse. For there clock-watching is not a minor vice but a prime necessity. If a project worker is fifty-five minutes late getting to work, the most damaging thing that can happen to him is the loss of one hour's pay. But if he is five minutes late in leaving work, and his tardiness is detected, he is subject to instant dismissal. "Overtime" to many a white-collar worker is merely a literary term-a matter of "making up on paper," under explicit directions from his superiors, a certain number of required "fiscal hours" which conilicting regulations will not allow him to perform in the flesh. If some individual quirk of conscience keeps a lone worker from signing his name and identification number to the solemn pledge which attests that he and his colleagues have labored faithfully, industriously, and efficiently for 120 hours a month, when in reality they have put in

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only 60 hours of desultory work, he will of course lose one-half of his monthly pay. But more than that, his record, which is the only means by which he is known to the officials who periodically reduce the relief rolls, will show that he has willfully and without permission absented himself from the tasks which according to their records his co-workers performed so faithfully. For in all of WPA's voluminous files there is no space for recording the ethical niceties which distinguish '. a conscientious man from a grumbler or a loafer. But' more important even than the problem of time is the question of money. Among all possible virtues, thrift would seem to be the one which a man on relief should cultivate. Yet under WPA regulations thrift becomes the most dangerous vice that he can acquire. The check which a project worker receives each week is not, after all, a wage paid to him for necessary work, which he can spend or invest or save as he wishes. It is a certain fraction of several billions of dollars which the government has intrusted to him for immediate dispersal to a realestate agent, a grocery clerk, a department store, a lunchroom, a moving-picture theater, or a corner saloon. If he decides to betray this trust and, by deny. ing himself new clothes or good food, save some portion of his weekly salary against the time when WP A will no longer employ him, he will find that time miraculously hastened by his frugality. He will, that is, unless he has learned how to deceive the "special investigators" whose business it is to discover just how he and his co-workers use their money. The man who has lost the privilege of holding a private job soon finds that he has also relinquished the right to own private property or lead a private life. VI It is when he realizes that obeying to the letter, and to the minute, certain fixed and arbitrary rules makes his position on WPA surer than the most efficient work

that he could possibly turn out, that a project worker must face a thought more devastating to his morale than the possibility that private industry will never reo employ him. This is the suspicion that private industry may be wise in refusing him a job. For as the once efficient worker contemplates the methods by which he is forced to perform the work that he is allowed to do, he sees that he has actually become more like the incompetent people with whom he is so closely associated than the men and women who labor hard and efficiently for what is commonly called an honest living-the men and women who, however menial their tasks or meager their wages, pay through their taxes the Iiberal dole that he receives each week. The relief worker, if he still holds to his personal integrity, cannot escape the final humiliation from which the national government, at the cost of many billions of dollars, has tried to spare him. However much he may try to disguise it when discussing the attractions of his "job" or his "business" with outsiders, to himself and his fellow-workers he admits that, like the home-relief clients, he also is subsisting upon a dole. If his superiors could admit this too they would save their government a great deal of money and themselves many a headache. But the high relief officials cannot concede that WP A salaries are doles without confessing that they are far from equitable ones. They are doles apportioned according neither to present needs nor past earning abilities, but to cultural classifications. Those who fear that the New Deal is being run exclusively for the laboring class should take some measure of comfort from this new aristocracy-not one of birth, to be sure, but of artistic inclinations. A WP A laborer with a wife, seven chilo dren, and an aging father to support gets no more for his leaf-raking or his sewerlaying than one who is a childless, unmarried orphan. And a WP A white-collar clerk, who as a salesman or the proprietor of his own business once earned five thousand dollars a year, gets considerably

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MAGAZINE

less than tens of thousands of boys and girls and elderly women who before WP A employed them had never drawn any salaries at all, but who, because they had no past experience to classify them for lowlier occupations, and also because they once went to college or studied singing or visited museums, were able to classify themselves and be accepted as teachers, musicians, and artists. Among all relief workers those who receive the highest hourly pay are the WP A artists in the large Eastern and Midwestern cities. Among them are to be found the several hundred painters and sculptors who produced the murals and statues which have become WPA's greatest pride and strongest selling point. But concentrated in the cultural projects and, through the weight of the numbers and the strength of their unions, dominating them, are the inexperienced, unencumbered, but highly articulate youngsters who are so certain that work relief has become their lifelong career. Nobody with the least understanding of human nature can blame these young people who have neither families to support them nor influential friends to get them jobs (for these were the prerequisites of their WP A employment) for clinging so determinedly to a way of life that is so much more "interesting" and also so much less laborious than that which the average middle-class youth is able to pursue even in normal times. Yet the gigantic works program was not inaugurated to encourage several thousands of boys and girls to indulge their artistic inclinations in the sure knowledge that the government would continue to pay them liberal hourly wages for doing so. It was inaugurated to help that same forgotten man who was remembered so dramatically in the 1932 presidential campaign-the man who had worked hard for his living, married, settled down, paid his debts, and begotten children, without any foreknowledge that a general depression would so swiftly

leave him destitute. Among white-collar workers those to whom the government promised most have received its smallest bounties and its stingiest moral support. What would happen to all these people if the WP A were suddenly discontinued we have no way of knowing-just as we cannot be certain what might have happened to them if four years ago the Roosevelt Administration had not decided that it was so much better for a man's morale to compel him to do "made work" at the rate of $80 a month (the average cost of keeping him on WP A) than to allow him to seek "real work" at the rate of $33 (the average amount that is spent on keeping a family on a monthly dole). I should hate to give aid and comfort to those who argue for a straight dole simply because it is cheaper and because they are callous to the human tragedy of unemployment. But there is this to be said: A man living on a straight dole may . go hungry, he may chide himself for the failure that he has become; but at least he has one intellectual satisfaction-that of admitting that spiritually as well as financially he has struck bottom. And from that honest admission, as the continuous turn-over in local relief rolls attests, there has often come the determination to work at anything he can-so long as what he does brings his family at least two meals a day and frees him from the necessity of confessing to anyone how he makes or spends or saves his money. The person who has worked for three years on a white-collar project has already lost this incentive to independent industry, and so he opposes wi th all the vigor he has left any change in the work relief program; not because, if he is honest, he considers the work he does worth while. or even because he thinks the government owes him a living, but simply because he knows that so long as the WP A continues as it is he can draw larger bounties from it than from any other public charity.

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