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National Youth Administration

File:NYA Poster Illinois 1937.jpg
Poster for the Illinois branch of the National Youth Administration, 1937
File:NYA typing class.gif
National Youth Administration was a Vocational Guidance--brush-up classes to improve typing ability (Illinois).
File:NYA Inaugural Parade Float 1937.jpg
NYA float, "Projects for Out-of-School Youth", Inaugural Parade, Washington, D.C., January 20, 1937

The National Youth Administration (NYA) was a New Deal agency in the United States that focused on providing work and education for Americans between the ages of 16 and 25.[1] It operated from June 26, 1935 to 1939 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).[2] Following the passage of the Reorganization Act of 1939, the NYA was transferred from the WPA to the Federal Security Agency.[2] In 1942, the NYA was transferred to the War Manpower Commission (WMC).[2] The NYA officially folded in 1943.

By 1938, it served 327,000 high school and college youth, who were paid from $6 to $40 a month for "work study" projects at their schools. Another 155,000 boys and girls from relief families were paid $10 to $25 a month for part-time work that included job training. Unlike the Civilian Conservation Corps, it included young women. The youth normally lived at home, and worked on construction or repair projects. Its annual budget was approximately $58,000,000.

The NYA was headed by Aubrey Willis Williams, a prominent liberal from Alabama who was close to Harry Hopkins and Eleanor Roosevelt. The head of the Texas division at one point was Lyndon B. Johnson, who was later to become president of the United States.

The NYA operated several programs for out of school youth.


As the Great Depression continued to grip the American economy and inhibit the harnessing of American potential, unemployment and poverty spiraled to record lows. These debilitating years saw youth unemployment dip to 30% and the younger cohorts of the United States increasingly faced the devastation of not being able to afford education (Woolner). Serving as the main catalyst for change and accelerator for government intervention, Eleanor Roosevelt recognized the need for government involvement. In 1934 she notably declared that she frequently experienced "moments of real terror when [she thought] we might be losing this generation." [3]

The Creation of the NYA

To combat the economic forces that entangled the youth and their families, the National Youth Administration was launched by an Executive Order in June, 1935 (Woolner). The federal agency was intended to assist young Americans during the tumultuous times, to prevent them from falling victim to current hardships, and to maintain their potential for future achievement and societal contribution. The NYA's first mission embodied the goal to prevent already-enrolled high school and university students from dropping out before earning their degree out of necessity of dire financial times. The agency achieved this by providing grants to youth in exchange for part-time work positions in various sectors of the education system, including administration, janitorial work, and cafeteria services. These efforts stemmed from a twofold mission to develop the youth's talent, while simultaneously keeping them from flooding the already-suffering and compromised labor markets (Woolner).

Secondly, the NYA was committed to providing training and employment for long-term value and advancement. Young people were provided with work experience and learning-by-doing training in a wide variety of fields, including recreation, public service, education, the arts, research and development, agriculture, and construction.[4] By 1937, more than 400,000 youth were employed or participating in occupational training under the NYA. Interestingly, these vocational programs and occupational placements were put to the ultimate test with the onset of WWII. The 1939 outbreak of war in Europe provided the perfect testing grounds to observe the effectiveness of NYA's training and initiatives in many fields that were related to the war economy. The war effort increased the program's reach and saw a substantial surge in young, trained workers contributing to the defense industry (Woolner). On a larger scale, the program enabled American youth to contribute to the war effort, stimulate the American war economy, and effectively turn the United States into an international powerhouse of production.

The NYA under Aubrey Williams

On a more intricate level, the NYA was also fundamental in bringing race considerations into the dialogue surrounding aid to workers and maturing youth. This platform was strongly pushed by Aubrey William's leadership in the agency. She was a forerunner in addressing unemployment and access to education among African Americans, creating the Office of Minority Affairs (Woolner). Her goals emphasized increasing this cohort's economic well-being through labor opportunities, increased educational attainment, and maximizing potential.

More generally, Williams was influential in emphasizing the program's broad reach and positive implications on the future. Her public addresses adamantly expressed that the transition youth experienced when adjusting from elementary years to greater independence and work positions was always rough, yet the economic situation of the Depression aggravated the transition and threatened to derail reaching final aspirations of work. Consequentially, it was the NYA's duty to provide access to education, advancement, and sense of occupational achievement through its interactive initiatives and agendas.[5] Williams' emphasis on turning America's youth into productive citizens was further supported by President Franklin Roosevelt's proclamation that the "yield on this investment [the establishment of the NYA] should be high." [6] Providing the youth with the foundation they needed would enable them to contribute to America's future development, the nation's strength, and progress and acceleration forward.

Achievements & the NYA's Legacy

Overall, the NYA helped over 4.5 million American youths find jobs, receive vocational training, and afford higher standards of education. More significantly, it provided the means necessary for this "struggling generation" to overcome the economic adversity that threatened to overrun the country (Woolner). Through the NYA's initiatives, the youth triumphed and maintained their dignity by contributing to society, growing personally, and stimulating advancements in America that eventually proved crucial to pulling the country out of a period of domestic strife.

As the home effort of World War II gained momentum, the NYA's crucial role quickly dwindled. The booming munitions and war industry economy was recruiting large numbers of workers, and the agency was no longer vital for ensuring work opportunity and growth among the population. This was specifically true for lesser-skilled workers who previously needed a support network to secure work or the skills needed to get their careers under way.[7] While the NYA was shut down in 1943, the agency's legacy lives on in its imprint on society and future generations.

The NYA drove the cultivation of human capital among America's younger citizens and laid the foundation needed to propel the youth into lives of accomplishment and fulfillment. On an aggregate level, the NYA had positive effects on the skilled labor supply, decreased the proportions of mismatched workers and employers, and improved America's capacity for production, growth, and economic stimulation. During other times of economic hardship, unemployment, and fears of declining education, activists have agitated for a similar program to be reestablished to directly help America's next generation of involved citizens and workers (Woolner).

See also



  • Lindley, Betty Grimes and Ernest K. Lindley. A New Deal for Youth: The Story of the National Youth Administration (1938)
  • Abramowitz, Mildred W. "Eleanor Roosevelt and the National Youth Administration 1935-1943: An Extension of the Presidency." Presidential Studies Quarterly Vol. 14, No. 4, Campaign '84: THe Conquest for National Leadership (Part Four) (Fall, 1984), pp. 569-580. Wiley on behalf of the Center for hte Study of the Presidency and Congress.
  • Cox, Philip W.L. "Facing the Problems of Youth: The Work Objectives of the National Youth Administration," The Clearing House Vol. 12, No. 2 (Oct., 1937), pp. 126-127. Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
  • Halstead, Gordon (Project Director NYA Resident Work Center, Lima, NY), Work—Study—Live: The Resident Youth Centers of the NYA, The New Deal Network website (accessed June 25, 2007)
  • Meriam; Lewis. Relief and Social Security The Brookings Institution. 1946. Highly detailed analysis and statistical summary of all New Deal relief programs; 900 pages
  • Reiman, Richard. The New Deal and American Youth (1980)
  • Saving a 'Lost Generation' Through the National youth Administration," Home.
  • Tyack, David et al. Public Schools in Hard Times (1970)
  • Weisenberger, Carol A. Dollars and Dreams: The National Youth Administration in Texas
  • Williams, Aubrey. "Conservation of American youth by the National Youth Administration," The Phi Delta Kappan Vol. 21, No. 8 (Apr., 1939), pp. 377-379. Phi Delta Kappa International.
  • Williams, Aubrey. "The Work of the National Youth Administration," Living Vol. 1, No. 4, Autumn (Nov., 1939), pp. 65-66. National Council on Family Relations. JSTOR.