In November 2018, I was walking in Schenley Park. With Panther Hollow Lake at my back, I approached the arch of one of the tufa stone bridges (built in 1908, that’s another story) when I saw an obelisk with “WPA 1939” chiseled on it.
Before I go on with my experience, let me tell you about the WPA. It was a government infrastructure program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, along with Congress, to help turn around the personal and economic devastation of the Great Depression. Among other programs in Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created in 1935. In 1934, there were 11 million people unemployed. During its eight year existence, the WPA employed 8.5 million people. WPA workers built roads, bridges, public buildings, parks and airports. Their salaries provided the means to support themselves and their families. These jobs saved lives, preserved skilled labor, restored personal self-worth and boosted the economy as taxes were paid and salaries were spent in communities.
During the Depression, my father survived unemployment with the help of the generosity of others in his community and he eventually found a job in a grocery store. In an era of such high unemployment, this store survived in part, because workers had jobs in programs like the WPA. And, because these people were able to shop, my father had a salary and my family was provided for. President Roosevelt’s programs made it possible for businesses, individuals and families to survive when the country was in economic ruin. His programs helped create the eventual turn around in the economy. Thank you, Mr. Roosevelt.
Fast forward to the November 2018 morning when I saw the “WPA 1939” obelisk. At that moment, I marveled that I was benefiting from the bridges and steps that were built with the same programs, funds and manpower that helped my father and his peers reestablish themselves in life. Today, what President Roosevelt did for my father’s generation is also contributing to the quality of our lives eighty years later. Man! That was money well spent! Thank you, Mr. Roosevelt.
And, you know what? Just as these WPA bridges and steps helped my dad, and help me, it is likely that they will benefit my grandson’s kids in another forty or fifty years. These programs, whether you know it or not, have helped generations of your family as well. Now, that’s a good government program! Thank you, Mr. Roosevelt!