New Deal - Public Works Administration nick noonan and cory you

Envisioned by FDR's Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, the Public Works Administration (PWA) budgeted several billion dollars to be spent on the construction of public infrastructure as a means of providing employment, stabilizing purchasing power, improving public welfare, and contributing to a revival of true American industry. Overall, the PWA single-handedly funded 34,000 projects, creating 70% of the new schools and a third of the new hospitals built from 1933-1939.

The programs of the New Deal provided much-needed relief for American families during the Great Depression.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Buncombe County, North Carolina

This 469-mile-long road stretching through North Carolina and Virginia follows the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Funded in large part by the PWA, workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) helped landscape the roadway and nearby areas. The road opened in 1935, but wasn't completed until 1987.

LaGuardia Airport

When it opened, the airport was a showcase for modern aviation, being one of the largest airports in the world during the time it was built. Today, LaGuardia is responsible for boarding over 23,000,000 passengers every year and has been rated the worst American airport four years straight.

"If I took you and blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York, you'd think, 'I must be in some third-world country,'" Joe Biden said. "It's embarrassing, and it's stupid."

Timberline Lodge

Built from 1936 to 1938 in Mt. Hood, Oregon, this National Historic Landmark draws over a million tourists every year. It is the only ski/snowboard area in North America that is open all 12 months of the year.

Roosevelt's notion of "Priming the pump"-

Strengths of the Public Works Administration

  • Completed more than 34,000 large-scale, heavy construction projects around the country that improved the nation's infrastructure and invigorated America’s "core industries" such as steel, lumber and construction.
  • Created work for many skilled, unemployed workers, although the PWA did not directly employ workers
  • Built thousands of miles of roads, hundreds of sewage disposal plants, and thousands of schools
  • Historians argue that the New Deal jobs programs helped preserve capitalism at a volatile time in history.
"It often seemed to me the possibility of some kind of a revolution was there, and these programs were politically significant as well as helpful to individuals and families," says Richard Kirkendall, professor of history at the University of Washington

Weaknesses of the Public Works Administration

  • Failed to provide affordable, quality housing, building only 25,000 housing units during the four and a half years it was active.
  • Spent over $6,000,000,000 towards public works projects but did not raise American industry to pre-depression levels.
  • Did not significantly reduce the nation's unemployment rate, nor did it catalyze the widespread formation of small businesses, as it was intended to do.
PWA workers on their way to fill a gully with wheelbarrows of dirt during the construction of a road located in San Francisco, California

Effects of the Public Works Adminsitration

Short Term

  • Paid much better wages than relief programs did, were free to hire a broader set of skilled workers, and were required to hire only a portion of people from the relief rolls.
  • Scrapped on June 30, 1943 in favor of deficit spending and war production to prepare for World War II.

Long Term

  • Americans still use the infrastructure financed by the PWA today, both the huge things, such as bridges and dams, and the smaller things, such as schools and sidewalks, usually with no idea that they were built by the PWA.
  • The PWA affected life in the United States by breaking down some of the long standing racial barriers in the construction industry by insisting that contractors employed African Americans


The Public Works Administration could be classified as relief and recovery as part of FDR's New Deal.

Relief - A 1939 report called “America Builds,” argued that the PWA had in fact stimulated the economy. It claimed the administration was responsible for creating 1,714,797,910 man-hours of labor.

Recovery - Roosevelt took the strong position that giving people jobs and meaningful work was better than giving him handouts. He later changed his position on deficit spending and the PWA was liquidated.

Reform - The Public Works Administration did not function as an implementation of reform, and six PWA-sponsored bills that relaxed rules constraining municipal cooperation with the agency were shot down by politicians influenced by large private corporations.

Impact Today

The PWA does not still exist today, as it exhausted its funding by June of 1934. The remaining years of the administration's existence was tasked with carrying out the projects, but no new projects were started.

As a direct follow-up to the Public Works Administration, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was formed since the country was still in economic disaster. This new 1935 administration not only built bridges and buildings like its predecessor, but also contributed to artistic and cultural projects.

Obama's 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARAA) is directly comparable to the PWA, as both functioned as stimulus packages. It allocated $275 billion to federal contracts, among other things. Though it was supposed to save 900,000 to 2.3 million jobs, it created 640,329 jobs in its first year alone.

Our Opinion

If re-instated today, we would prioritize making the review process more expeditious, since the PWA's main downfall was the slow rate at which project proposals were thoroughly reviewed.

Because PWA funding largely went to private construction companies with already-employed workers, the legislation did little to affect real unemployment rates. We would re-write the bill to mandate that hired PWA workers do not already have existing employment.

Works Cited

"Top 10 Public Works Projects From the Great Depression." Listosaur | Hungry for Knowledge. N.p., 20 Sept. 2016. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

"Public Works Administration." Public Works Administration. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2017. <>.

Media, American Public. "Bridge to Somewhere." American RadioWorks. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. <>.

"Public Works Administration." Social Welfare History Project. N.p., 12 Oct. 2016. Web. 17 Mar. 2017. <>.

Website design and web development by Mango Web Design "Public Works Administration." North Carolina History Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2017. <>.

Created By
Cory You

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