The Great Depression and the New Deal Reforms

Subject: History
Pages: 3
Words: 889
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: School

Numerous facets of the social welfare system make it challenging to provide a concise definition. Social welfare’s history is an interdisciplinary study of the evolution of organized activities and charitable works related to social reforms and public or non-profit social services aimed to protect and benefit individual citizens, families, and social communities. This paper chose the New Deal program as an example of such social reforms. According to Jansson (2018, p. 254), this program “was America’s first venture into the development of a universal economic safety net to ensure access to the basic necessities of life for its citizens.” The paper will start with a general presentation and focus on the New Deal’s two main stages of implementation – before 1935 and after. Then, it will showcase the issues of the lawfulness of the New Deal’s reforms and conclude why such “radical” measures could have been the only way to aid the country in crisis.

The Great Depression severely damaged the country’s financial and economic stability. To achieve immediate economic relief, Franklin Roosevelt – current President of the U.S. – faced the need to address various issues that occurred in agriculture, industry, labor, finance, and housing. Consequently, Roosevelt’s administration developed a plan to use the federal government’s power and direct it to lift the country from the Great Depression. This plan signaled both the federal power expansion and a government’s transformation in relationship with the American people (Smith, 2018). The New Deal’s implementation started in 1933 and lasted until 1939, with the most important enactments occurring directly after its implementation – the so-called hundred days – and in 1935 (Smith, 2018). The initial reforms mainly concerned unemployment, business, and agricultural issues, whereas the 1935 reforms focused on solidifying the population’s welfare system regarding urban and labor groups.

Roosevelt’s first goal was to address the overall unemployment level by establishing various agencies such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). These agencies were responsible for dispensing short-term and emergency government aid while providing temporary jobs, such as work in national forests or on construction projects (Smith, 2018). Next, the New Deal focused on revitalizing businesses and agricultural communities. The National Recovery Administration was established to shape industrial regulations that governed wages, hours, trade practices, collective bargaining, and child labor.

In addition, the New Deal intended to modify the financial hierarchy of the country to prevent events such as the crash of the stock market in 1929 or the bank collapses that followed shortly after. In particular, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation provided federal insurance for Federal Reserve System members’ bank deposits (Smith, 2018). Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission monitored and protected individuals from possible fraudulent stock market practices(Smith, 2018). The Agricultural Adjustment Administration regulated staple crops’ production by providing cash subsidies to farmers to raise prices(Smith, 2018). Finally, Tennessee Valley Authority supplied seven states with cheap electricity and also prevented floods, improved navigation, and controlled the production of nitrates (Smith, 2018). Overall, the establishment of numerous reliable organizations allowed for efficient delegation of ongoing reforms’ execution.

In two years, the New Deal’s reforms shifted their focus to the population’s urban and labor groups. First, the Wagner Act allowed for an expansion of organizing power in labor unions under the National Labor Relations Board’s jurisdiction (Smith, 2018). In this context, some industries registered fixation regarding the amounts of minimum wage and maximum working hours accomplished by the federal government’s rising authority in industrial relations. Another important program of the New Deal’s second wave was the Social Security Board. It was enacted in 1935 and 1939 and provided various benefits to widows and the elderly, including disability insurance and unemployment compensation (Smith, 2018). As one of the last agencies created by the New Deal, the United States Housing Authority had the slums abolishment as its main purpose (Smith, 2018). However, the authority given to local governments only partly addressed the issue, hindered by racial bias and segregation policies.

Although New Deal’s reforms were greeted with general acceptance in public, the U.S. Supreme Court termed some of them unconstitutional. It insisted that the government should not possess such authority over industry regulation and conduct social and economic reforms. In 1937, to suppress the Supreme Court’s resistance, Roosevelt attempted to reorganize it (Pacelle, 2019). Despite the effort’s failure, he later managed to persuade the majority of the Court’s judges to support the New Deal.

To conclude, the New Deal policies became, in many ways, symbolic for the people of that time. The First New Deal in 1933 addressed the country’s financial issues, stabilizing the system and reducing financial risks for companies and individuals. In addition, it established the ground for future social welfare campaigns by creating numerous job opportunities for the unemployed in public works. Finally, it addressed the agricultural problems through market regulations and farmers’ support. The Second New Deal directly aimed and social welfare, namely increasing the quality of life of labor and urban populations. For the former, the New Deal created various labor unions and regulated industries in favor of the labor force. As for the latter, it launched a campaign against the slums to solve the housing problem. Overall, the New Deal helped the whole nation to overcome the crisis of the Great Depression, and this alone already proves its value to the population.


Jansson, B. S. (2018). Empowerment series: The reluctant welfare state. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

Pacelle, R. L. (2019). The transformation of the Supreme Court’s agenda: From the New Deal to the Reagan administration. Routledge.

Smith, J. S. (2018). Understanding the New Deal in an age of Trump and Brexit. Reviews in American History, 46(1), 121-127.