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What is the National Youth Administration?

By Alan Rankin
Updated May 17, 2024
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The National Youth Administration was part of the New Deal initiative designed by the U.S. government to provide jobs and relief to Americans affected by the Great Depression. The program focused, as the name suggests, on impoverished and unemployed people between the ages of 16 and 25. President Franklin Roosevelt was encouraged to include them in New Deal programs by his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. The agency was part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

President Roosevelt’s New Deal policies began in 1933 and included work programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps. Eleanor Roosevelt was concerned about American youths who were suffering the effects of the Depression. Rampant unemployment meant many young people of the 1930s had never held a job. Eleanor was involved with the American Youth Congress, an independent organization advocating rights for young people. Americans under the age of 21 were not considered at the time to be legal adults and did not have the right to vote.

At the first lady's urging, the Roosevelt administration implemented the National Youth Administration in 1935. The executive director was Aubrey Williams, a prominent Southern liberal and friend of the Roosevelts. Lyndon Johnson, a Southern liberal who later became president after John F. Kennedy was assassinated while in office in 1963, directed the Texas office of the agency.

While the Civilian Conservation Corps had provided temporary work for millions of young men at the start of the New Deal, a major drawback was that such jobs did not translate into lasting employment. Williams and other architects of the National Youth Administration drew on these lessons and focused on giving young people work that would be useful after the Depression and in their later lives. The program helped to accomplish that by providing job training and work-study programs that allowed participants to earn income while continuing their education.

Jobs provided by the program included construction and building renovation, farm work, community service and factory jobs. Unlike the Civilian Conservation Corps, the agency also included programs for young women. Although pay was low, it was still an improvement for many, and some participants were also provided room and board.

Like many New Deal programs, the National Youth Administration was opposed by those who felt federal employment programs reeked of socialism. It was discontinued in the 1940s, displaced by burgeoning employment in war industries. The program provided training and direction to nearly 1 million young Americans during its operation employment.

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Discussion Comments
By Bertie68 — On Nov 11, 2011

As the Great Depression was coming to an end, World War II was a great stimulus to the economy of the U.S. For those who weren't in the military, there were plenty of jobs for men and for women.

There were those then, just as there are today, who say any social program smacks of socialism. It wasn't the workers that got us into this economic slump. Assistance is needed to get deserving and hard-working people employed again.

By PinkLady4 — On Nov 10, 2011

I really have to admire President Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor. The temporary jobs that were available through Civilian Conservation Corps certainly helped a lot of people. And then the National Youth Administration provided all those young unemployed young men and women a way to train themselves for future employment.

The young people of today need some assistance also in these difficult economic times. If these students aren't able to get jobs soon, we won't be able to retain our present place as a strong country.

By Monika — On Nov 09, 2011

@SZapper - I actually saw an exhibit in a museum about the National Youth Administration. Most people associate the New Deal initiative with jobs building bridges and things like that. However, there was a lot more to it including the National Youth Administration and the Federal Writers Project.

Both of these programs were aimed at a specific segment of people and provided them with jobs that weren't just construction related.

I'm not sure if these programs would work today, but they sure seemed to help during the Great Depression!

By SZapper — On Nov 09, 2011

I think it's nice that the First Lady thought to include young people in the New Deal of 1933. If only there were some programs like that for young people during the most recent recession!

Programs like these help society as a whole, I think. When you have a ton of young people with no money and no jobs, that can pretty much only spell disaster. Once the economy gets better, people that haven't been working won't have the skills to compete.

By MrMoody — On Nov 08, 2011

@Charred - The reason it was ended was because of the War. There was no need for the program any longer.

The war brought us out of the Great Depression in my opinion. This is something that people who advocate the need for a second New Deal don’t understand.

Government intervention wasn’t the answer; the war was the answer, as painful as that may be to admit. Now I am certainly not advocating more wars to bolster our economy, but I think we should understand that the answer lies within the private sector, which produces jobs.

To the extent that government is involved, it should be to relax regulations so that the private sector can flourish.

By Charred — On Nov 07, 2011

I think this was the best part of the FDR New Deal program during the Great Depression. I know that some people like to quibble about economic philosophies, but the fact is that young people are hardest hit during a downturn.

They don’t have the experience or street smarts that experienced job seekers have. Anything we can do to help them is good in my opinion, even if it means offering government jobs or places of employment in infrastructure expansion or things like that.

Without government help, it will be difficult for them to compete with more experienced job seekers. It’s a shame that this program was ended.

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