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.