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Marcos Villatoro on how a government jobs program changed his father’s life

My father Ralph was born a sharecropper in east Tennessee, worked most of his life as a car mechanic, and died a coal miner.

Sharecropping tobacco meant hunger for two winter months of the year. His mother would shove a tobacco leaf into my father’s mouth in order to dampen the cravings for food.

In my childhood, dad crawled under Chryslers and shoved his hands into the guts of a Chevy. He’d come home smelling of oil and brake fluid.His final job was one of the most dangerous in the nation: Coal miner. He rode a giant bucket down into the depths of the earth and fixed mechanical moles that dug into walls of coal.

He had a fifth grade education from a one-room schoolhouse in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. He was nine when the stock market crashed in 1929, and thirteen when Franklin Roosevelt became president:

“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; It lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and the moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten.”

In just the first month after he was sworn into office Roosevelt proposed and Congress passed a New Deal program called the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC. It was an ambitious, first of its kind government employment initiative that would eventually create jobs for three million Americans desperate for work. And they were real jobs. CCC workers built hundreds of campgrounds, hacked out thousands of miles of hiking trails, planted hundreds of millions of
trees to stop soil erosion, and helped build a first class infrastructure across the nation.

Dad joined and helped build the Smokey Mountain National Park. He was paid thirty dollars a month, and like all the other workers, the government sent twenty-five dollars to his family and gave Dad five for spending money. It was a real stimulant, not only for the economy, but for Dad’s own bouts with depression. Work helped keep him sane. Work wasn’t the cure for depression; but a job did those magical things that drugs cannot do: kept him occupied. Put his hands to use. Made him greasy and proud at the end of the day. Dignity: that’s one terrific medication.

Roosevelt’s and Congress’ lightening quick action so early in FDR’s presidency, helped save the country. Think about that kind of government action. The program went from concept to law in a month’s time. A note to our elected leaders: Dare to do something radical. Work together. Nothing relieves the pain of depression — both economic and mental — than a government that gives a damn.


  • visitor

    Great story. If only we could put people to work rebuilding our infrastructure. Power outages, crumbling bridges and roads are today’s normal.

  • a voter

    Thanks for bearing witness to the value of our government creating jobs for people to do real work that’s needed. Why can’t our elected leaders agree to do this today?

  • Anne

    Great story!!!   It reminds me of how this country used to be…we SO need this again.  Obama or any other president’s first priority…especially 3 years ago… should have been in job creation and the economy, for all LEGAL Americans.  (NOT his still unresolved, bogus health care plan and amnesty for illegals)!!!!!!!! 

    Sadly, we are experiencing the results of this NOT being done .  I m one of the millions now suffering, although I LOVED working!

  • jan

    The problem is not a lack of will to work.  The problem is a lack of opportunity to work and be paid.  I don’t know why the people in charge, specifically the republicans and tea partiers/libertarians, refuse to see that.  

  • Lucehoward

    some of my elders told me about the ccc camps years ago. A FARMER most of my life i have seen places in woods ware thay fad logging camps. when thay cleared the land for farms.back then pepole worked. now we have moor pepole and less work getting done.

  • Annette

    The commentary about the CCC was great, but the following blurb about Obama and a job program for veterans was pitiful, some pathetic number of jobs over FOUR years, literally a drop not in the bucket but in a bathtub.  I thought that was so disappointing.
    We absolutely need a REAL jobs program where the government would provide a LOT of jobs for willing workers of whom there are so many — and they could help do things that would benefit us in the future like repair our infrastructure or teach our children — BUT Obama and no one else are remotely likely to do this very necessary and constructive thing!
    Instead, people either sit at home or make themselves crazy sending out hundreds of electronic job applications — and this does NOTHING for the country now or in the future.

  • Scott

    FDR saved the country?  He made a two year recession into a 16 year depression that did not end until his failed programs, taxation, regulations, and price controls were removed starting in 1946.

    Separating myths from reality, and lies from truth is the only way we will start to have a sound recovery……and that means a lot less government intervention and huge rollback in government’s size.

    The CCC was a waste of resources and was only a ‘make work’ program with NO sustainability for permanent jobs.  Who the hell were hiking and camping in the midst of the Depression….except for politicians and the elite?  All FDR’s pseudo-compassionate social programs all took needed capital and investment out of the private sector that could have instead led to sustainable jobs, improvement in the standard of living, and a faster recovery.

    All the statists, collectivists, and socialists on both the right and left never look at the REAL cause of the Great Depression, just like they are all doing now again.  It was the money creation by the FED in the 1920′s fueiling a speculative boom with widening gap between the ‘haves, and the politically connected’ and the ‘have nots’.  And just like today, our current crash has occurred because of government policy and intervention in the housing market, inflationary easy money by the Fed, and continued government intervention and failed economic policy that continues to drive the economic slump and hinder its recovery.

  • JD

    Government help? Give me a break. 
    So in the ’30s the father got $40 a week and that amount enabled the family to survive. 
    $40 per week? 
    Why should we not expect more of the same?

  • JD

    So why isn’t your local utility and government maintaining their assets and charging accordingly?

  • nicktaylornyc

    This is a great story.  FDR not only saved the country, he rebuilt it and brought it into the 20th Century, something the private sector could and would not do.  Plus, as this video shows, New Deal programs saved individual families when, as we often forget, people were homeless and starving.  Americans today still enjoy the fruits of New Deal job creation — they use CCC trails and campgrounds, attend schools built by the WPA, drive across bridges built by the Public Works Administration.  The country could use a new effort to both provide jobs and renew our crumbling infrastructure.