The Balance Sheet for NYA - 1938

The NYA program is in a fluid, changing state. It is an emergency measure, designed to provide some of the less privileged youth with at least a measure of participation in the economic, social, and educational life of an era which frequently seems to have no place for many of them. In this informal survey of NYA, it is necessary to include some of the new aspects, problems, and evaluations that have emerged as the program has developed.

NYA Youth and Health

NYA has no national health program. In every State, health education is carried on to some degree, according to the community resources that NYA can command, since its own limited funds prevent expansion in this important field.

Red Cross nurses, county and State public health officials, personnel from public hospitals, and in a number of instances social-minded physicians and dentists assist in spreading knowledge of healthy living to boys and girls from relief families. All these preventive measures, inadequate as they are, have significance in the general health picture.

But what of the 18-to-24-year-old boys and girls who need medical and dental care? It is extremely difficult to figure in any way how youth who earn on an average $15.44 a month and whose families are on relief can afford the services of private doctors, dentists, and hospitals. Clinical facilities are non- existent in most rural areas and in many towns. Few cities make investments in the health of their citizens adequate to meet more than the most desperate demands.

Students receiving NYA college aid use whatever medical services the colleges provide for their student bodies. NYA youth in Resident Projects receive physical examinations, and, when these projects are established at educational institutions, arrangements are usually made for the youth to receive the institution's regular medical services.

In some cases, NYA has provided medical examinations for its out-of-school youth. Every boy and girl on the Rhode Island program receive a physical examination and is assigned to work according to his physical as well as his potential occupational abilities.

Youth in need of medical care are referred to hospitals and clinics. Ohio has a well-developed health pro- gram. In other States, we have found several instances in which medical examinations are now an accepted routine in NYA, but this practice is by no means general. Furthermore, without available clinical follow-up for those who need it, medical examinations are futile.

Some indications of the health of NYA out-of-school youth are startling. In one Middle-Western industrial city, 1800 boys and girls were given thorough physical examinations. Forty- three percent of them were found to be unemployable (by private industry) because of their physical condition.

It was estimated that with corrective medical treatment this large portion of youth who were occupationally handicapped be- cause of physical defects could be reduced to 8 or 10 percent.
In giving a skin tuberculin test to 506 Negro youth in Chicago, the Tuberculosis Institute found that 87.5 percent reacted positively, indicating past tubercular histories or present infections. Of the 370 of this group who were X-rayed, only 207 showed healthy chests.

In Atlanta, Georgia, 371 Negro girls were given the Kahn test for syphilis; 138, or 37 percent, showed positive reactions. This was an exceptionally high percentage in comparison with other groups of NYA youth who have received Wassermann or Kahn tests.

In rural communities in Georgia, the percentage of positive reactions was very low. In a Minnesota report, one percent showed positive reaction. In general, in these scattered reports, cities have shown a greater incidence of venereal disease among relief youth than have rural areas.

In many States NYA is co-operating with the United States Public Health Service in its broad program for the control and eradication of venereal diseases.

All investigations into the physical conditions of relief youth indicate a very serious situation. Those youth now suffering from ill health become less and less able to care for themselves when no medical treatment is available for them.

If this country is not to carry the burden of large groups of unemployable adults because of ill health, wider medical and hospital facilities must be brought within the reach of under-privileged youth.

Engineers' Report on NYA Work Program

Whether raw youth under the limited expert supervision that NYA funds permit could do satisfactory construction work was an open question in the minds of NYA administrators.

In the late summer of 1937, a confidential engineers' evaluation of the construction and shop program was made by the WPA engineering organization under the direction of Colonel F. C. Harrington, of the United States Army, Assistant WPA Administrator.

This survey covered 108 projects in 27 States—sufficient in the opinion of the engineers to give a fair cross-section of the program.

The summary of the survey, prepared by Mr. Perry A. Fellows, Chief Assistant Engineer of WPA, was intended exclusively for administrative guidance and has not been pub- lished. It contained a number of frank criticisms and minor recommendations, which have been followed by NYA officials in improving the work program.

However, the general con- clusion of the report was that "the National Youth Administration construction program as a whole is very good. The expressions excellent, very good, good, and mediocre were the principal adjectives used in evaluating various aspects of the program.

In brief summary, the ratings given to various aspects of the construction and shop work as a whole were these:

  • Public value of work done, and facilities created: Excellent.
  • Educational value of work to youth employed: Good, with great variations from project to project.
  • Location of projects, with view to their operation and their later use: Excellent.
  • Design factors: Good, very good, and excellent.
  • Employment value of work: Very good.
  • Operating methods, safety, etc.: Very good—in some sections excellent.
  • Supervision: Very good and excellent.

The report cited examples of rather large projects—one consisting of the construction of a dormitory for 72 boys, a mess hall, a poultry house, dairy facilities, and other facilities— where the class of construction work done was "excellent" and where the foreman deserved praise for training the boys to lay out details of work and "insisting on a high quality of workmanship."

As a testimonial to the ability of inexperienced young men under limited supervision to do high-grade construction and shop work this engineers' report is arresting. It was influential in the decision of NYA to expand this phase of its work program.

Like others who have inspected the NYA work program in the field, these engineers were impressed with the effect of the work on the social attitudes of the youth employed. One engineer-inspector reported:

"When the project first started there was considerable 'soldiering on the job. A few fights occurred between boys and some drunkenness was evident. This particular city had a reputation of juvenile delinquency."

"Since the project has been in operation it was found that the spirit of the youths has been aroused to a pride in a participation in a public enterprise. The boys on the project have formed a social unit and for the past five months there have been no complaints from the local peace officers, who have attributed the lack of delinquency to this project."

NYA and Organized Labor

Organized labor is represented on the National and State advisory committees and many of the local advisory committees of NYA. On the whole, the NYA out-of-school work program appears to enjoy the approval of organized labor.

In a few States NYA has refrained from going into the construction field in deference to the objections of certain trade union bodies. In some, organized labor has tacitly approved NYA work in the fields of the various trades.

In a number of States and localities, organized labor has warmly endorsed the NYA out-of- school program and is actively co-operating with it.

Where union men are available it is the general practice to employ them as foremen on NYA construction and workshop projects. This, in itself, has added in a small way to employment within the ranks of organized labor.

For at least two reasons the NYA work program is not generally regarded as a threat by organized workers in those fields in which NYA affords vocational experience.

The first is that the NYA program is turning out very few skilled workers. Probably the only exceptions to the rule are the wood-carvers and cabinet-makers developed among the Spanish-American youth of New Mexico and in a few other of the best woodworking shops, such as some of those in the Kentucky mountains. Ordinarily the NYA construction and shop program affords a youth no more than a chance to discover his aptitudes and to obtain a little experience as a beginner.

Secondly, the NYA program has adhered to the rule that these out-of-school youth shall not engage in productive work which might be done in any other way. From fairly extensive observation, we are convinced that the instances in which it might be displacing regular adult workers are so rare as to be negligible.

There is no displacement of regular labor when NYA youth, under skilled supervision, build a new school in a poverty-ridden county that could not otherwise have one. There is none when they build a cooperative dormitory where they themselves, and youth to come in later years, can pool their tiny resources to obtain an education.

There is none when they convert a piece of waste ground into a playground, or when they make play equipment for the use of under- privileged children, or when they make chairs and desks for rural schools that cannot afford to buy them.

On the NYA out-of-school program, youth creates for youth. A large portion of the benefits of NYA work goes directly to the children and youth of the laboring groups of the population.

Many instances could be cited in which the endorsement by organized labor groups of the NYA out-of-school program has been accompanied by intimate co-operation.

In Schenectady, New York, NYA youth are starting to re- model the entire plant of the abandoned county home. Both A. F. of L. and CIO organizations in that city have agreed to furnish volunteer technical supervision from the following trade unions: Local 146, Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners; Local 16, Masons (covering masonry, bricklaying, tile terrazzo); Local 105, Plumbers and Steamfitters; Local 166, Electrical Workers; Local 62, Decorators, Painters, and Paper- hangers; Local 12, Structural and Ornamental Iron Workers.

The following is from a resolution passed in June 1937 by the Building Trades Council of Santa Clara County, California:

Whereas the National Youth Administration is an agency of the Federal Government and a part of the Works Progress Administration whose purpose is the training and assistance of young Ameri- can citizens so that they may become upright, self-supporting, and self-reliant citizens, and

Whereas the Building Trades Council of Santa Clara County, State of California . . . is vitally interested in promotion of the welfare of youth and of the cause of good citizenship, and Whereas we believe it to be right and proper that young men being assisted by the National Youth Administration should have an opportunity to learn the honorable skilled trades at which we work . . .

Be it resolved that young men now being assisted or that may hereafter be assisted by the National Youth Administration in this county and who may be recommended by said Administration be and they are hereby given permission to be employed as apprentices in the several crafts represented in this building trades council.

In setting up a Resident Project at San Marcos, Texas, where NYA youth are getting vocational experience in the woodwork and metal trades, Mr. Travis J. Lewis, Coordinator for the Fort Worth public schools and labor's representative on the Texas Planning Board, worked out a system by which in each locality two members of unions would sit on a committee with two representatives of industry and one educator to select youth for the project and to advise on the general conduct of the project. In a report Mr. Lewis stated:

"Thoughtful labor union members have been concerned by the number of occu- pational misfits now being accepted for apprenticeship."

In Atlanta, Georgia, the garment makers' union wrote in their contract with textile mills a clause which states that only NYA workers from a project in power machine operation are to be accepted as apprentices. In Macon, Georgia, the building trades unions advise with NYA supervisors as to the type of work project most desirable from the points of view both of youth and of the possibility of absorption in the various trades.

For example, the painters' union figures that eight more youth can be absorbed during the year into the apprenticeship class. In its project planning NYA co-ordinates the number of youths it employs in this field with the openings which the union has indicated are likely to occur. The preliminary try-out on NYA gives the youth a chance to show his aptitude and the union a chance to judge it.

Organized labor has an important stake in the youth of the country; from them in a short time must come the strength, the patterns, and the leadership for labor. It seems inconceivable that a large group of youth, unemployable because of lack of training and general occupational disintegration, can contribute to the progress of organized labor.

The derelict on the wharf, the sleeper on the park bench, the transient on the road—the youth to whom education and work experience have been alien—cannot add to labor's strength.

Administrative Personnel

The central staff of NYA consists of 25 administrative officials. Mr. Aubrey Williams, Deputy Administrator of WPA, receives no compensation for his special duties as Executive Director of NYA.

Actively in charge under Mr. Williams is Mr. Richard R. Brown, Deputy NYA Administrator. Under Mr. Brown are five regional directors, who spend most of their time in the field, six directors of administrative divisions, and twelve assistants.

Counting all field workers and clerical, stenographic, and custodial employees, the entire national office force consisted of 67 persons in May 1938 and has never exceeded that number by more than four or five.

The 48 States, New York City, and the District of Columbia each have a Youth Director. Their salaries range from $3,000 to $6,000, a great majority being less than $4800. Attached to the State offices are 110 administrative assistants and district supervisors.

Their salaries range from $1,000 to $3,600. Including all clerical, stenographic, and miscellaneous employees in the national office and all State offices, there were approximately 915 persons on the NYA administrative payroll in April 1938.

In addition, there are some county supervisors and approximately 6,000 supervisors of individual work projects. They receive from $60 to $120 a month, the average being less than $70. As in the WPA, these job supervisors, or foremen, are not classified as administrative employees.

Their wages are charged to the costs of the individual projects, and they account for nearly all the non-relief workers on the rolls of the NYA work program.

The administrative and supervisory personnel in NYA is too limited. Project and county supervisors, particularly, receive quite inadequate compensation for the varied duties demanded of them. In the earlier NYA days, many of these came from the ranks of teachers.

As the program developed, and the work projects became more diverse, men and women of broader practical experience were needed. We noted a tendency to employ young engineers as district and county supervisors.

As we traveled from county to county and from State to State, we were impressed with the efficiency, the deep interest, and the long hours that NYA administrators and supervisors devote to their work.

"It gets you," one young man who was a county supervisor in West Virginia told us. "There's something I can't just de- fine about it, but when you see boys and girls who never have had a chance before, learning to do something, actually making something that other people will use, changing their own habits of living, developing toward each other a sense of responsibility, you decide maybe there's something more to a job than a paycheck."

How Much Does It Cost?

More than 475,000 youth were working on NYA programs in March 1938. Of these approximately 154,000 were out-of- school youth and approximately 325,000 were high school, col- lege, and graduate students.

Since the out-of-school program has got well under way, and excepting the summer months when student aid is not given, the number of youth working on all NYA programs has ranged between the peak of 630,000, reached in April 1937, and the low point of 360,000, reached in October 1937.

For the twelve months ending June 30, 1938, the total cost of the NYA programs to the Federal Government was ap- proximately $58,000,000. The annual cost to the Federal Government of each NYA youth was approximately:

  • For high school students: $40
  • For college students: $105
  • For out-of-school youth: $242

These figures include costs of administration, supervision, materials, and all other overhead items in both national and State NYA offices paid for by the Federal Government, nearly all of which are chargeable to the out-of-school program.

The Federal cost of administering the student aid programs is prob- ably only a small fraction of one per cent. of the total outlay. The total administrative overhead for the entire NYA amounts to about $2,500,000 annually, or less than 5 percent of the total Federal expenditure of NYA.

For the fiscal year 1937–38, it was approximately 4.6 percent. In 1936–37, when more youth were employed, it was only 3.78 percent. To these figures should be added a small but incalculable allowance for the free services which NYA receives from WPA.

WPA handles NYA payrolls and requisitions and compensation claims arising from accidents, and provides NYA with a certain amount of free statistical service—an arrangement that is economical for the Federal Government.

Under the NYA program, the annual Federal cost of keeping a youth in high school is about one-thirtieth that of keeping him in a CCC camp. College student aid costs less than one-tenth as much per youth annually as the CCC.

The out-of- school work program costs only slightly more than one-fifth as much as the CCC per youth. The Resident Centers, which are the NYA enterprises most nearly comparable to the CCC, are being operated for approximately one-fourth of the cost of the CCC per youth.

The cost of the Resident Centers per youth will rise as this division of the NYA program is enlarged, since there is a limit to the subsidies in the form of materials, supervision, and instruction which they can obtain from existing educational institutions.

The full cost of the CCC is borne by the Federal Government. The CCC provides full-time employment whereas the NYA provides only part-time employment.

As most CCC youths send home from $20 to $25 of the $30 or more monthly that they are paid in cash, in addition to the food, lodging, clothing, and incidentals with which they are provided, part of the higher CCC cost is a contribution to the support of the general relief burden.

Part of the NYA expenditure also is offset by reduced relief payments through other channels. But as NYA has had annually only about one-tenth as much as the CCC for out-of-school youth, the NYA contribution to the general relief burden necessarily has been the smaller of the two.

Through November 30, 1937, only $1,506,581 of Federal funds had been spent by NYA for materials, supplies, equipment, rentals, and services for work projects. Local sponsors had put up $3,697,241, or 71 percent of the cost of these items in the out-of-school program.

At all times since the out-of-school program got under way, more than 95 percent of all persons employed on it—including county and project supervisors—have been persons certified as in need of relief.

There is no way of computing the money value of the counsel and active attention given to the out-of-school program and related educational work by thousands of local agencies and individual citizens. Also unascertainable is the value of the materials and supervision provided by high schools and colleges for student work projects.

The low cost per youth of the NYA program as a whole is due largely to the maximum use of existing State and local facilities. The Federal money is chiefly a thinly spread subsidy which puts to work the surplus capacity of these facilities. Beyond that, NYA serves largely as an agency of stimulation and organization.

The monetary worth of the thousands of public improvements and the many thousands of articles of furniture, clothing, hospital supplies, and other products made by NYA youth cannot be computed. Nor can any dollar value be fixed for the expansion of public services made possible by NYA youth.

In total these increased services and inanimate assets probably amount to a good many millions of dollars. However valuable they are, they are unimportant in comparison with the incalculable return to the nation in the conservation and improvement of its human assets.

The Future of NYA

If NYA were to cease to function, thousands of college students of superior ability would be forced to leave college. Many thousands of high school girls and boys also would drop out.

With employment opportunities at a low ebb, many thousands of youth on the out-of-school program would be "on the bum," with no work to do, small chance to learn how to work, no earnings for personal and family needs, no feeling that they are part of the national life.

The annual investment that NYA is making in the less privileged youth of the United States is less than the cost of one battleship.

With the needs of youth as wide as they are, and with the future of the country as dependent as it patently is on the character and capability of youth, it would be reckless to neglect the minimum needs of this populous group of economically disabled young people.

An important benefit of NYA is the integration of large numbers of youth into the general community life. Youth working on a public school, a playground, a park, or sewing for public institutions, acquire a sense and specific knowledge of the interdependence of human beings within their own communities, of social organization, and of the responsibilities of citizenship.

Public and private organizations and individuals who contribute money, time, and advice to NYA activities are brought in closer touch with the difficulties and aspirations of youth.

NYA touches only part of the youth who are in the most desperate circumstances. In May 1938, there were many thou- sands of boys and girls already certified for NYA who could not be assigned because funds were not available.

Apart from the youth who were being helped to remain in colleges and schools by NYA wage checks, there were probably between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 youth, 18 to 24 years of age, who in May 1938 were out of school and seeking work but unable to find it.

In addition there were several hundred thousand youth in a group which NYA does not reach: those 17 years of age or younger who are out of school and unemployed. NYA might well consider bringing some of these younger youth to Resident Projects where they can earn subsistence while receiving education and practical training.

On the other hand, the unmarried youth of 23 or older, who form a small percentage of the enrollees on NYA out-of-school projects, might be cared for on some other public program. They are usually less plastic occupationally and educationally than the younger people, and consequently do not receive correspondingly valuable returns from NYA.

Within NYA's present restricted scope, there is room for improvement and enlargement. Much of this is dependent upon the availability of additional funds.

In some ways, NYA's lack of money may have been an asset in its first phases, as it demanded ingenuity in planning and exploration of all resources for cooperation within communities. But insufficient money for materials for work projects has been and still is a serious handicap.

Frequently communities with the least abilities to contribute have the largest reservoirs of relief youth and the greatest opportunities for improvement of public property.

More flexibility in the use of funds for materials seems desirable. The results of the new NYA Resident Projects indicate that expansion in this field of closely related work and training can benefit increased numbers of youth.

There are limits, however, to the willingness and ability of existing educational institutions to take on these new and experimental units. If NYA is to set them up as independent work and educational centers, more funds will be needed if the rest of the NYA work program is not to suffer.

The turn-over of youth on the NYA out-of-school program has been high. Although the average number of out-of-school youth employed by NYA at any one time has been around 150,000, more than 500,000 different youth have been on the program in its first two and one-half years.

Approximately one- third of the youth who left the program between March 1937 and February 1938 did so to take private employment.

Some of these jobs were seasonal. Other separations from the NYA rolls were attributable to general curtailment of the program, loss of family relief status, attainment of the 25-year upper age limit prescribed for NYA, employment on other public programs, and the loss of eligibility through marriage.

Married youth are classified as primary wage earners. With the decline of private employment opportunities which began in the fall of 1937, separations from the NYA program have been fewer, while the number of youths seeking admission to the NYA work program has increased.

We questioned State Youth Directors and supervisors closely concerning the possibility of a dearth of desirable projects for NYA out-of-school work. Except in a few communities, we found no indication that there is likely to be any shortage of sound projects in the near future.

Because of NYA's characteristic decentralization into small working units, many minor but useful public work projects may be undertaken, such as the repair of a one-room school house, the development of a neighborhood playground, and the building of smaller structures than it would be feasible for WPA to handle. There is apparently an almost inexhaustible demand throughout the country for the improvement and creation of youth facilities.

After a careful scrutiny and analysis of the needs of youth, the President's Advisory Committee on Education recommended in February 1938 that NYA and CCC activities be placed under one agency, which might be designated the National Youth Service Administration and which should be placed in a department including public health, education, and welfare, if such a department should be established. Specifically this comprehensive report states:

The student aid program now being carried on by the National Youth Administration should be continued. It should not be made permanent until after further experience but might well be placed upon a basis of specific and continuing statutory authorization for a period ending in 1945. . ..

Aid for college students and for other students 18 years of age and older, except those physically disabled, should be authorized only on a work basis. Aid should be continued for needy high school pupils 16 and 17 years of age.

The administrative agency should be given freedom to experiment with high school aid both on a work and on a non-work basis until a sound general policy can be determined. . ..

The work projects program of the existing National Youth Administration should be continued along much the same lines as at present, with additional effort to increase the educational value of the projects and to stimulate the educational interests of the youth concerned. Some form of educational activity should be provided in connection with all work projects.

A consolidation of the present CCC and NYA programs under one administration might prove to be a desirable development. Each organization has a wealth of experience to contribute to a more comprehensive appreciation of the problems of present-day youth.

Each has developed varying techniques which could be objectively analyzed with possible immediate benefit. We have noted a number of youths who after serving in the CCC have come home to face unimproved working opportunities and have been assigned to NYA.

A careful study of these youth who have experienced both pro- grams might be of help in determining the most efficient, economical, and productive methods of assisting depression youth.

NYA has not solved and cannot solve the basic problems of the groups of youth it has touched. These problems are interwoven with and inseparable from the general social and economic enigmas of this era.

NYA does demonstrate that, given the chance, these youth show a willingness, often an eagerness, to work, to learn, and to assume their responsibilities in this civilization.

Betty and Ernest K. Lindley, "The Balance Sheet for NYA," in A New Deal for Youth: The Story of the National Youth Administration, New York: The Viking Press, 1938, pp. 202-218.

Return to Top of Page

WPA / Works Progress Administration
GG Archives

Support This Site - The Future of Our Past

Books

Farmers on Relief and Rehabilitation - WPA - 1937

Inventory: An Appraisal of Results of the Works Progress Administration - 1938

Rural Families on Relief - Research Monograph XVII - 1938

Rural Youth: Their Situation and Prospects - Research Monograph XV - 1938

Rural Youth - Their Situation and Prospects - Conclusions - 1938

New Deal for Youth - The National Youth Administration (NYA) - 1938

1935-05 The Drought and Current Farm Imports

1936-10-15 Report on Progress of The Works Program

Final Report on the WPA Program 1935-43

Handbook of Proceedures - 1937

Report on Progress of WPA Program - 1942

Improve Your Family History Through Illustrations

Make Your Family History More Readable Through Illustrations From the GG Archives