The Second New Deal: Definition & Programs

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression. In this lesson, you will learn about Franklin Roosevelt's Second New Deal and the programs it created to help boost the economy at this time.

Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal

In 1929, the United States suffered one of the greatest economic shocks in its history. The stock market crashed, banks closed, and in the following months and years, millions of Americans lost their jobs. Bread lines wrapped around city blocks as people waited for small amounts of food to feed their families. The president at the time, Herbert Hoover, took a hands-off approach to righting the economy, and Americans felt he did not do enough to help the country.

In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as president and swept into office with a plan to fix America. His New Deal was a series or programs and acts that promised to fix the banking system, right the economy, and put Americans back to work. Referred to as the Hundred Days, FDR spent his first 100 days in office pushing bill after bill through Congress, creating programs like the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, as well as new government regulations and agencies like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

The Second New Deal

Within a year, FDR's New Deal showed modest results. The economy was still nowhere near where it was in 1929 and unemployment was still a growing problem. Imagine how frustrated and angry you'd feel if you couldn't find a job for years! Roosevelt saw the writing on the wall: He needed to do more if he wanted to win the presidential election in 1936. In 1935, Roosevelt proposed a new round of programs and legislation, referred to as the Second New Deal. During that year, Congress and FDR passed and signed the Social Security Act, Works Progress Administration, and Wagner Act, which we'll discuss below.

Social Security Act

More likely than not, you've heard your parents, grandparents, or other adults talk about Social Security. But what is it exactly? In 1935, FDR wanted to create a sort of 'social safety net' for the American people. Elderly Americans who were unable to work suffered during the Great Depression. Prior to the depression, older people might be taken care of by their children or grandchildren, but with so many people out of work, it was difficult to find the money and food to feed any extra mouths. There were also other Americans who needed financial support from the government. The Social Security Act, signed into law on August 14, 1935, created:

  • A monthly pension, or allowance, for senior citizens
  • Unemployment benefits for people out of work
  • Disability benefits for people hurt on the job
  • Benefits for children and adults with physical disabilities
  • Benefits for mothers with dependent children

The Social Security Act helped many Americans feel more financially secure and taken care of by their government. Social Security has changed and expanded over time to include more people.

FDR signing the Social Security Act into law
FDR signing the Social Security Act into law

Works Progress Administration

Unemployment was one of the biggest problems FDR faced during his presidency. To help put Americans back to work, he created the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA was one of the most expensive programs created by the New Deal and cost about $11 million. That doesn't sound like a huge amount of money, but if you adjust for inflation, the program would cost about $187 million today! The philosophy behind the WPA was simple: Americans did not want to just get a handout from the government--they wanted to earn what they were given. People employed by the WPA earned an average of about $40 per month. To put that into perspective, the federal minimum wage today is just over $7.25, so today, a person working a standard 8-hour work day at minimum wage would make $58 in one day.

WPA Poster
WPA Poster

From 1935 to its end in 1943, the WPA put roughly 8.5 million Americans to work building infrastructure like roads and bridges. Of that 8.5 million people, a relatively small percentage were women; instead of building roads and bridges, they were employed as seamstresses or in schools. The WPA also employed artists and writers. From 1935 to 1943, the WPA commissioned about 2,500 murals and over 17,000 sculptures to be featured around the country in public buildings. Artists and writers also worked as teachers and ran workshops for adults and children to learn their craft.

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