Harry Hopkins pp 175-200 | Cite as

Economic and Social Security

  • June Hopkins
Part of the The World of the Roosevelts book series (WOOROO)


Early in 1934 Harry Hopkins began formulating a new program for the nation’s unemployed. He emphasized the importance of work, not only as a relief measure but as an integral part of the national recovery effort. Direct relief was no curative for the individual or for the nation, he declared, and the government had to “stop pouring relief into an unfillable void.” The unemployed needed the opportunity to work for wages and industry needed consumer dollars. He admitted that government jobs programs were expensive, but direct relief was “repugnant” and took an enormous toll on the nation’s psyche. The cost of assuring workers a job became irrelevant when measured against the survival of American ideals.1 Hopkins was convinced that a permanent, national program of employment assurance, working in concert with unemployment insurance, would lead to economic recovery for the nation, ensure real security for American families, and preserve the nation’s democratic values. All he needed was the right occasion to talk it over with the president and he was sure he could convince him of the efficacy of his plan. Many months passed before he found this opportunity.


Social Security Unemployment Insurance Work Program Economic Security Unemployed Worker 
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  1. 6.
    See Basil Rauch, The History of the New Deal, 1933–1938 (New York: Creative Age Press, 1944), 156–159, for a discussion of this policy.Google Scholar
  2. 10.
    “President’s Remarks to the National Conference on Economic Security,” Box 1: National Conference of Economic Security, RG 47, National Archives; “Speech, August 29, 1934,” Box 28: Speeches 1934, HHP, FDRL; Quoted in Halsted MS, chapter 7; Harold L. Ickes, The Secret Diary of Harold L. Ickes, vol. 1, The First Thousand Days, 1933–1936 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1953), 194.Google Scholar
  3. 12.
    Robert S. McElvaine, The Great Depression: America 1929–1941 (New York: Times Books, 1984), 248.Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Roosevelt, vol. 2, The Coming of the New Deal (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1958), 294.Google Scholar
  5. 29.
    Edwin E. Witte, The Development of the Social Security Act (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1962), 44; Witte, “Twenty Years of Social Security,” 7; Proceedings, National Conference on Economic Security November 11, 1934, 105–107, Box 4, RG 47, National Archives. See also FERA, Folder: publicity, Box 57, RG 69, National Archives.Google Scholar
  6. 47.
    The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, vol. 4, The Court Disapproves, (New York: Random House, 1938), 20. Hopkins helped Roosevelt draft this speech. See Kenneth S. Davis, FDR: The New Deal Years, 1933–1937. (New York: Random House, 1979), 464.Google Scholar
  7. 48.
    Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. The Age of Roosevelt, vol. 3, The Politics of Upheaval. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960), 344–46.Google Scholar
  8. 50.
    New Deal relief was directed at productive individuals; unemployables did not fit into this free enterprise system and therefore were cut out of federal programs. Care for unemployables had always been considered the responsibility of the local agencies. Bremer, Depression Winter, 177; Donald S. Howard, 720; Rauch, 163–164; James T. Patterson, The New Deal and the States: Federalism in Transition (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1969), 75–78; Gill, 178–182. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. noted that it took less than two weeks for the WPA to emerge as the dominant agency. Schlesinger, The Politics of Upheaval, 345.Google Scholar
  9. 58.
    Harry Hopkins to “My dear Mr. President,” June 30, 1938, Letter of Transmittal with Harry L. Hopkins, Inventory: WPA, An Appraisal of the Results of the Works Progress Administration (Washington, D.C.: Works Progress Administration, 1938), 7–8.Google Scholar
  10. 71.
    Gill maintained that “the fearful results of increased public debt have been grossly exaggerated.” In his opinion, public spending stimulated business and, while it was no panacea, it did provide employment and helped the nation move toward economic recovery. Gill, 221–222; John Kenneth Galbraith wrote a detailed report to Roosevelt on long-range planned public works to offset unemployment which said in part: “The continued existence of unemployment as the central economic problem of the United States makes evident the need for planning a public works policy on a long-range basis…. The problem of unemployment is to be met in part through the construction of public works. But even if unemployment should cease to be a major problem, the need for a continuing program of public works construction would not disappear.” Because economic depressions and the unemployment they caused were not self-correcting, he declared, permanent public work projects, capable of expanding and contracting with the economy, should be a necessary part of any corrective process. John Kenneth Galbraith, The Economic Effects of the Federal Public Works Expenditures 1933–1938 (New York: Da Capo Press, 1975, orig. 1940), 1.Google Scholar
  11. 84.
    “Security for Children,” 4. See also Grace Abbott, “Recent Trends in Mothers’ Aid,” Social Service Review, 8 (June, 1934), 191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 96.
    Harvard Stikoff, Fifty Years Later: The New Deal Reevaluated (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1985), 90–91. Gwendolyn Mink also claimed that the expectation was that ADC would be phased out when social insurance finally prevented future dependent motherhood. However, only for middle-class women did this become a reality; poor women continued to rely on public assistance. Mink, 126, 134–135, 175. Due to the population explosion in the 1950s, the continued escalation of poverty in the United States, and the decline in the number of nuclear families, the number of families dependent on ADC (later AFDC) support increased enormously. See Josephine Brown, 303.Google Scholar
  13. 98.
    Josephine Brown, 308–312; see Kriste Lindenmeyer, “A Right To Childhood”: The U.S. Children’s Bureau and Child Welfare, 1912–1946, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997).Google Scholar

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© June Hopkins 1999

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  • June Hopkins

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