The Second New Deal

ANSWERING THE CHALLENGE

Roosevelt recognized that some of the criticisms of the New Deal were valid. Although he was still reeling from the Supreme Court’s invalidation of key statutes, he decided to face his re-election bid in 1936 by unveiling another wave of legislation that he dubbed the Second New Deal. In the first week of June 1935, Roosevelt called congressional leaders into the White House and gave them a list of “must-pass” legislation that he wanted before they adjourned for the summer. Whereas the policies of the first hundred days may have shored up public confidence and stopped the most drastic of the problems, the second hundred days changed the face of America for the next sixty years.

The Banking Act of 1935 was the most far-reaching revision of banking laws since the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1914. Previously, regional reserve banks, particularly the New York Reserve Bank—controlled by the powerful Morgan and Rockefeller families—had dominated policy-making at the Federal Reserve. Under the new system, there would be a seven-member board of governors to oversee regional banks. They would have control over reserve requirements, discount rates, board member selection, and more. Not surprisingly, this new board kept initial interest rates quite low, allowing the federal government to borrow billions of dollars of additional cash to fund major relief and recovery programs.

In 1935, Congress also passed the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, which authorized the single largest expenditure at that time in the country’s history: $4.8 billion. Almost one-third of those funds were invested in a new relief agency, the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Harry Hopkins, formerly head of the CWA, took on the WPA and ran it until 1943. In that time, the program provided employment relief to over eight million Americans, or approximately 20 percent of the country’s workforce. The WPA funded the construction of more than 2,500 hospitals, 5,900 schools, 570,000 miles of road, and more. The WPA also created the Federal One Project, which employed approximately forty thousand artists in theater, art, music, and writing. They produced state murals, guidebooks, concerts, and drama performances all around the country (Figure). Additionally, the project funded the collection of oral histories, including those of former slaves, which provided a valuable addition to the nation’s understanding of slave life. Finally, the WPA also included the National Youth Administration (NYA), which provided work-study jobs to over 500,000 college students and four million high school students.

A mural depicts three industrial workers engaged in various tasks.
Painted by artists funded by the Federal One Project, this section of Ohio, a mural located in the Bellevue, Ohio post office, illustrates a busy industrial scene. Artists painted the communities where they lived, thus creating visions of farms, factories, urban life, harvest celebrations, and more that still reflect the life and work of that era. (credit: Works Progress Administration)

Browse the Born in Slavery collection to examine personal accounts of former slaves, recorded between 1936 and 1938, as part of the Federal Writers' Project of the WPA.

With the implementation of the Second New Deal, Roosevelt also created the country’s present-day social safety net. The Social Security Act established programs intended to help the most vulnerable: the elderly, the unemployed, the disabled, and the young. It included a pension fund for all retired people—except domestic workers and farmers, which therefore left many women and African Americans beyond the scope of its benefits—over the age of sixty-five, to be paid through a payroll tax on both employee and employer. Related to this act, Congress also passed a law on unemployment insurance, to be funded by a tax on employers, and programs for unwed mothers, as well as for those who were blind, deaf, or disabled. It is worth noting that some elements of these reforms were pulled from Roosevelt detractors Coughlin and Townsend; the popularity of their movements gave the president more leverage to push forward this type of legislation.

To the benefit of industrial workers, Roosevelt signed into law the Wagner Act, also known as the National Labor Relations Act. The protections previously afforded to workers under the NIRA were inadvertently lost when the Supreme Court struck down the original law due to larger regulatory concerns, leaving workers vulnerable. Roosevelt sought to salvage this important piece of labor legislation, doing so with the Wagner Act. The act created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to once again protect American workers’ right to unionize and bargain collectively, as well as to provide a federal vehicle for labor grievances to be heard. Although roundly criticized by the Republican Party and factory owners, the Wagner Act withstood several challenges and eventually received constitutional sanction by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1937. The law received the strong support of John L. Lewis and the Congress of Industrial Organizations who had long sought government protection of industrial unionism, from the time they split from the American Federation of Labor in 1935 over disputes on whether to organize workers along craft or industrial lines. Following passage of the law, Lewis began a widespread publicity campaign urging industrial workers to join “the president’s union.” The relationship was mutually beneficial to Roosevelt, who subsequently received the endorsement of Lewis’s United Mine Workers union in the 1936 presidential election, along with a sizeable $500,000 campaign contribution. The Wagner Act permanently established government-secured workers’ rights and protections from their employers, and it marked the beginning of labor’s political support for the Democratic Party.

The various programs that made up the Second New Deal are listed in the table below (Table).

New Deal Legislation Years Enacted Brief Description
Fair Labor Standards Act 1938–today Established minimum wage and forty-hour workweek
Farm Security Administration 1935–today Provides poor farmers with education and economic support programs
Federal Crop Insurance Corporation 1938–today Insures crops and livestock against loss of revenue
National Labor Relations Act 1935–today Recognized right of workers to unionize & collectively bargain
National Youth Administration 1935–1939 (part of WPA) Part-time employment for college and high school students
Rural Electrification Administration 1935–today Provides public utilities to rural areas
Social Security Act 1935–today Aid to retirees, unemployed, disabled
Surplus Commodities Program 1936–today Provides food to the poor (still exists in Food Stamps program)
Works Progress Administration 1935–1943 Jobs program (including artists and youth)
Key Programs from the Second New Deal