This morning I made a statement. I said, “The whole damn country has lost its mind.” Chuck in reply said, “No, it’s more like it has lost its soul.” Here’s what caused us to feel this way, and how I know that I’m a capitalist.
It all began when I told him about some research I was doing and about a project that was done during the Great Depression in a South Florida city. It was a FERA project, where they hired people to interview the elderly in that community. They were asked if they remembered anything their parents told them about their family moving to the area. They picked their brains for any information they could glean. What I found were extremely good stories about how people migrated to south Florida during the mid to late 1800s.
Chuck said, “What is FERA”. I said, “You know, one of those projects where people are given jobs to put more money into the economy. Only back then they used their money to put people to work, while we just passed a stimulus bill and gave most of it away.” Then I added, “The whole damn country…” Well, you get the picture.
FERA was the Federal Emergency Relief Administration which President Herbert Hoover created in 1932. They gave loans to states to operate relief programs. Along with the Civilian Conservation Corps, it was the first relief operation under the New Deal. Florida is full of FERA projects, like the community center in Davenport, the seawall around Spring Bayou in Tarpon Springs, and one of the Education buildings still standing at Florida State University in Tallahassee. These were considered socialist handout programs back then even though people still had to work for the money. The people of the 1930s didn’t think these were capitalist programs.
FERA’s main goal was to alleviate household unemployment by creating new unskilled jobs in local and state governments. This was more expensive than direct cash payments (called “the dole”), but it was psychologically beneficial to the unemployed at that time. The unemployed wanted and needed any sort of job for self-esteem issues. Men especially wanted to maintain the role as their families’ breadwinners, but women took jobs too.
By the time FERA closed in 1935, it provided work for over 20 million people and developed facilities on public lands all across the country. Over $3.1 B was given to states and local governments to run the program. In 1935 it was replaced with the WPA, the Works Progress Administration.
I’ve always felt that working was a good thing. It makes me feel good to be productive. I get satisfaction in what I do. I’ve been this way since my first job sweeping hair in a beauty salon at the age of 14. I made fifty cents an hour. Back then minimum wage wasn’t required for teenagers.
I wanted a beautiful red and black plaid wool skirt with matching vest made by Bobby Brooks. The skirt was a tad short, but with the vest one could wear it on the hips and pass the dress code. It was tough being a teenager in those days.
I asked my parents, and they told me that the outfit cost too much. I told them I wanted a job, and Mama got me one working at the place where she got her hair done. That was 1968. I worked three afternoons a week and a half day on Saturday.
By the end of my first week, I made enough to go have the skirt placed on lay-away. The outfit was sold in separates. I was just hoping no one came in and bought the vest before I could get it, too.
Feeling lucky and smart, almost two months later I paid for and took home the entire outfit. What a wonderful feeling! I had been bitten by the capitalist bug. Years later, while attending college, I worked in a dress shop and spent everything I made in that one store. Can you tell I love clothes?
Eventually, I learned to live within my means and spread around the good cheer. Thankfully, I also learned how to save.
It is too bad that people who love to work and who save for the future seem to be fewer in number today. It has been a good work life for my husband and me, and we’re retired now.
I wrote this almost five years ago, and I’m happy that our country seems to be turning this around. Under the new presidential administration, it seems that more people than ever are back at work. It seems that fewer people are waiting for a handout. This is indeed good news for America.
What was your first job and what was your first big buy? How do you feel about our current welfare system? Do you believe we are getting closer or farther away from our capitalist roots?