CCC’s Shovel-Ready Jobs

We laughed when Obama through out the term Shovel Ready Jobs in 2011…. so we bring you this story. It didn’t save the country but it saved the men.

Eighty-four years ago today, the first allotment of 25,000 men was mustered into the Civilian Conservation Corps. They assembled at the aptly dubbed Camp Roosevelt on lands of the George Washington National Forest and began their work on public lands — with each man paid $1 a day.

The Great Depression hit this country in a series of shock waves. By the spring of 1933, nearly 13 million Americans were unemployed, out of a workforce of some 52 million. So one-fourth of the population couldn’t find gainful employment. (As shocking as that percentage sounds, the number was actually even higher: Women and farmers, to name two groups, were undercounted.)

So when we talk about Donald Trump’s “first 100 days” — or Barack Obama’s, or George W. Bush’s, or Ronald Reagan’s, for that matter — we are really comparing apples and oranges. Franklin D. Roosevelt faced an economic crisis of epic proportions. Among his emergency measures was to create the Civil Conservation Corps. He mentioned in passing the idea of sending unemployed young men into the nation’s forests during the 1932 Democratic convention, but first directed the White House staff to give him a plan on March 9, five days after his inauguration.

By March 21, he sent a plan to Congress, and on March 31, it passed. A week later, the applicants began flooding in.

The Civilian Conservation Corps, as constituted in 1933, wouldn’t pass muster in 21st century America. Liberals who lauded the program at the time would challenge it in federal court today on a variety of grounds, including age, race, and gender discrimination.

The program was limited to unemployed men between the ages of 18-25 (although it was later expanded to 17-28), and they had to be single. Although the government provided room and board, $22 to $25 of the $30 the men made each month had to be mailed home to their families. Congress insisted the program be racially integrated, but in the prevailing “separate but equal” ethos of the day, this meant black CCC units and white ones.

Acknowledging those shortcomings, however, the program that lasted from 1933 to 1942 succeeded on multiple levels.

At its height, it took 500,000 idle American males from the streets to the forests, and gave them gainful employment. By the end of the program, some 3 million men had served. This almost certainly contributed to social stability amid economic conditions that were ripe for social unrest. Also, the projects were not make-work. Every one of the nation’s 48 states had one or more CCC camps (California had 150 of them) and this army of volunteers fought fires, built roads and flood abatement projects, spruced up national parks, and planted trees — 3 billion of them.

It also provided money to hard-pressed families who knew that it wasn’t charity. It showed all Americans that policymakers in Washington were trying to make a positive difference in their lives. Finally, as President Roosevelt noted, it fed men who might otherwise have gone hungry or turned to crime.

In the summer of 1933, FDR visited several CCC camps in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. In his brief remarks at one of them, the president acknowledged that making sure the workers were well-fed was one of the program’s main objectives. But he made this point in his famous upbeat style.

“I wish I could spend a couple of months here myself,” Roosevelt quipped. “The only difference between us is that I am told you men have put on an average of 12 pounds each. I am trying to lose 12 pounds.”

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics

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