In the spring of 1938, Roosevelt decided he’d had enough of budget-cutting. He resumed spending, and soon the WPA rolls were back above 2 million, on their way to an all-time high of 3.4 million.
The lesson for Obama in all this is that stimulus works, and the sooner and more aggressive, the better. The vast infrastructure upgrades that were achieved by the WPA were in many ways a side-product, but an important one that is still paying national benefits. Given the country’s potholes, sagging bridges, rickety electric grid and spotty broadband coverage, a push today on new infrastructure would also provide lasting and necessary benefits. In the first round of stimulus spending, jobs were saved and some infrastructure projects got underway, but there’s still much more to do.