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How the New Deal Created Jobs

The New Deal created the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Many Glaciers Civilian Conservation Corps, Glacier National Park, MT – 1933
Image courtesy of National Park Service

By Shawn Downes, English Language Arts editor

Under President Roosevelt’s leadership the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration helped stimulate the economy.

Grade Band: 6–8

Beginning with the Stock Market crash in 1929 and lasting until the early 1940s, the Great Depression was a time of economic despair for millions of Americans. Businesses closed, banks failed, and more then 25 percent of Americans were out of work. When he was elected in 1932, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) promptly took steps to improve the economic situation in the United States. The president enacted a series of programs as part of what he called the New Deal. As part of the New Deal, the president and Congress established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). These programs put millions of Americans to work and provided the country with many benefits, including parks, roads, buildings, and artwork.

Established in April 1933, the CCC provided jobs for young, unemployed men between the ages of 17 and 24. In addition, the CCC employed World War I veterans, skilled foresters and craftsmen, and Native Americans living on reservations. Participants in the CCC received room and board and a small stipend along with education and training in a variety of skills. The young men also had the opportunity to develop their leadership and personal skills. And perhaps just as important, CCC participants knew they were making valuable contributions to society at a time when many people were out of work and struggling.

CCC workers were divided into companies and lived in camps. Similar to army barracks, the camps included classrooms, a hospital, barber shop, canteen, and sometimes even a movie theater. The men lived in tents or wooden structures. They had access to evening classes and leisure activities on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. By July 1933, there were 1,433 CCC camps. Enrollment in the CCC peaked in August 1935, with 500,000 men spread across 2,900 camps. In all, around 3 million men served in the CCC over its nine-year history.

Participants in the CCC were not the only ones who benefitted from this program. The country benefitted from the CCC in many ways too. With the guidance of the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and the Department of the Interior and Agriculture, the CCC fought forest fires, planted trees, cleared and maintained access roads, re-seeded grazing lands, and implemented soil erosion controls. The CCC also built wildlife refuges, fish-rearing facilities, water storage basins, and animal shelters. To encourage Americans to get outside and enjoy their country’s natural resources, the CCC constructed bridges, campground facilities, and picnic shelters. The parks and other natural areas enjoyed by people and wildlife today are a lasting legacy of the CCC.

Civilian Conservation Corps workers

Many Glaciers Civilian Conservation Corps, Glacier National Park, MT – 1933
Image courtesy of National Park Service

While the CCC was certainly a valuable institution, it had a major flaw: women were not allowed to participate. This situation was not acceptable to Eleanor Roosevelt (the first lady) and other prominent women, including Frances Perkins and Hilda Worthington Smith. Perkins served as FDR’s Secretary of Labor. She also chaired the Committee on Economic Security and created the Social Security program. Worthington Smith was the director of Bryn Mawr’s School for Women Workers. Along with the first lady, Smith and Perkins created She-She-She camps. These camps provided thousands of young women with a small salary, room and board, educational opportunities, and vocational training.

Like the CCC, the WPA was instituted to help bring America out of the Great Depression. By the late 1930s, over 3 million workers were employed by the WPA. These men and women built schools, hospitals, government offices, storm drains, bridges, airfields, and other important infrastructure. They taught classes and provided care for children and older Americans. Artists painted murals, sculptors created monuments, and actors and musicians performed. More than 100 community art centers were established throughout the country through the support of the WPA.

Greenbelt Community Center

Sculpture by Lenore Thomas at the Greenbelt Community Center, Greenbelt, MD
Image courtesy of WPA and Lenore Thomas

The WPA left an enduring legacy of well-built schools, dams, roads, bridges, hospitals, public buildings, murals, sculptures, and monuments. Another achievement of the WPA was the Folklore Project. Through the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), the WPA employed well-known writers like Zora Neale Hurston, Saul Bellow, and May Swenson. These writers recorded the stories of more than 10,000 American men and women from a variety of regions, occupations, and ethnic groups. Accessed through the Library of Congress, the Folklore Project provides first-hand accounts of what it was like to be an American during the Great Depression.

The CCC and the WPA are no longer around. But they inspired modern day organizations. For example, many states offer their young men and women the opportunity to participate in Youth Service and Conservation Corps, which together make up The Corps Network. Similar to the CCC, these modern-day corps provide education, vocational training, and leadership opportunities to young people. In return, participants in the corps work to improve the country’s state and national parks. In 2014, the federal government launched the 21st Conservation Service Corps, providing service opportunities for veterans as well as young Americans.

The Great Depression was certainly a challenging time for millions of Americans. But, like most challenging situations, it provided opportunities. Through participation in programs like the CCC and WPA, millions of Americans gained valuable educations and professional training. They earned money to help support their families. They learned how to interact with and lead others. And, these hard-working Americans had the opportunity to serve their country and contribute to a lasting legacy of parks, buildings, infrastructure, and art that many people are still enjoying and benefitting from today.

She-She-She Camp

She-She-She Camp, Maine – 1934
Image courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration

Test your understanding

Based on the text, a legacy is something __________.

  1. that is easy to use
  2. received from the past
  3. that affects many people
  4. familiar to a majority of people

How was the WPA mainly different from the CCC?

  1. Women could participate in the WPA.
  2. Millions of people worked for the WPA.
  3. The WPA provided participants with training.
  4. The WPA had projects in many parts of the country.

The author wrote the text mainly to __________.

  1. convince the reader that steps to end the Great Depression were effective
  2. persuade the reader to get involved with conservation efforts
  3. inform the reader about particular state and national parks
  4. inform the reader about certain New Deal programs

What is a main idea of the text?

  1.  The CCC and WPA were important to President Roosevelt.
  2. The CCC and WPA are the inspiration for modern youth corps.
  3. There were many benefits that resulted from the CCC and WPA.
  4. There are many things people today can learn from the CCC and WPA.

Print this lesson out for your student.

Talk About It

If you could have participated in a program like the CCC or WPA, which activity or job would you most want to perform? Which skill would you most want to learn?

Get Everyone Involved

Learn about a park, building, bridge, other structure, or artwork in your area created by the WPA, CCC, or She-She-She.

Dig Deeper

Learn about an American who participated in the CCC or WPA.


Civilian Conservation Corps.” History, 17 Oct. 2018.

The Great Depression.” American Experience, PBS, n.d.

Today in History – April 8.” Library of Congress, 8 Apr. 2020.

The Working Woman.” Stevenson Library Digital Collections, Bard College, 2014.

Works Progress Administration (WPA).” History, 10 Jun. 2019.

Answer key

  1. received from the past
  2. Women could participate in the WPA.
  3. inform the reader about certain New Deal programs
  4. There were many benefits that resulted from the CCC and WPA

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