During the 1930’s, America witnessed a breakdown of the Democratic and
free enterprise system as the US fell into the worst depression in history.
The economic depression that beset the United States and other countries
was unique in its severity and its consequences. At the depth of the depression,
in 1933, one American worker in every four was out of a job. The great industrial
slump continued throughout the 1930’s, shaking the foundations of Western
The New Deal describes the program of US president Franklin D. Roosevelt
from 1933 to 1939 of relief, recovery, and reform. These new policies aimed to
solve the economic problems created by the depression of the 1930’s. When Roosevelt
was nominated, he said, “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the
American people.” The New Deal included federal action of unprecedented scope to
stimulate industrial recovery, assist victims of the Depression, guarantee minimum
living standards, and prevent future economic crises. Many economic, political, and
social factors lead up to the New Deal. Staggering statistics, like a 25% unemployment
rate, and the fact that 20% of NYC school children were under weight and malnourished,
made it clear immediate action was necessary.
In the first two years, the New Deal was concerned mainly with relief,
setting up shelters and soup kitchens to feed the millions of unemployed. However
as time progressed, the focus shifted towards recovery. In order to accomplish this
monumental task, several agencies were created. The National Recovery Administration
(NRA) was the keystone of the early new deal program launched by Roosevelt. It was
created in June 1933 under the terms of the National Industrial Recovery Act. The NRA
permitted businesses to draft “codes of fair competition,” with presidential approval,
that regulated prices, wages, working conditions, and credit terms. Businesses that
complied with the codes were exempted from antitrust laws, and workers were given the
right to organize unions and bargain collectively. After that, the government set up
long-range goals which included permanent recovery, and a reform of current abuses.
Particularly those that produced the boom-or-bust catastrophe. The NRA gave the President
power to regulate interstate commerce. This power was originally given to Congress. While
the NRA was effective, it was bringing America closer to socialism by giving the President
unconstitutional powers. In May 1935 the US Supreme Court, in Schechter Poultry Corporation
V. United States, unanimously declared the NRA unconstitutional on the grounds that the
code-drafting process was unconstitutional.
Another New Deal measure under Title II of the National Industrial Recovery Act
of June 1933, the Public Works Administration (PWA), was designed to stimulate US
industrial recovery by pumping federal funds into large-scale construction projects. The
head of the PWA exercised extreme caution in allocating funds, and this did not stimulate
the rapid revival of US industry that New Dealers had hoped for. The PWA spent $6 billion
enabling building contractors to employ approximately 650,000 workers who might otherwise
have been jobless. The PWA built everything from schools and libraries to roads and highways.
The agency also financed the construction of cruisers, aircraft carriers, and destroyers for
In addition, the New Deal program founded the Works Projects Administration in 1939.
It was the most important New Deal work-relief agency. The WPA developed relief programs
to preserve peoples skills and self-respect by providing useful work during a period of
massive unemployment. From 1935 to 1943 the WPA provided approximately 8 million jobs at
a cost of more than $11 billion. This funded the construction of thousands of public buildings
and facilities. In addition, the WPA sponsored the Federal Theater Project, Federal Art
Project, and Federal Writers’ Project providing work for people in the arts. In 1943, after
the onset of wartime prosperity, Roosevelt terminated the WPA.
One of the most well known, The Social Security Act, created a system of
old-age pensions and unemployment insurance, which is still around today. Social security consists
of public programs to protect workers and their families from income losses associated with old age,
illness, unemployment, or death.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) established a federal Minimum Wage and maximum-hours
policy. The minimum wage, 25 cents per hour, applied to many workers engaged in interstate commerce.
The law was intended to prevent competitive wage cutting by employers during the Depression. After
the law was passed, wages began to rise as the economy turned to war production. Wages and prices
continued to rise, and the original minimum wage ceased to be relevant. However, this new law still
excluded millions of working people, as did social security.
However, a severe recession led many people to turn against New Deal policies. In addition,
World War II erupted in September 1939. Causing an enormous growth in the economy as war goods were
once again in great demand. No major New Deal legislation was enacted after 1938.
The Depression was a devastating event in America, and by regulating banks and the stock
market the New Deal eliminated the dubious financial practices that had helped precipitate the
Great Depression. However, Roosevelt’s chief fiscal tool, deficit spending, proved to be ineffective
in averting downturns in the economy.