Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

How was work rationed, at least in Utah, during the Depression?

In my entry for Great Depression in Utah, I claim that you can answer “How was work rationed, at least in Utah, during the Depression?” with this resource. Here’s how:

  1. Visit the site and start browsing the list of articles on the left hand side of the page.
  2. Open up A Labor Inspector During the Great Depression. In here you’ll find:

The hiring committee was a product of the pre-New Deal effort to meet the economic crisis. In mid-1932 the Congress appropriated money for accelerated federal highway aid programs in an effort to alleviate distress in some areas at least. To keep the road contractors from filling the work crews with friends and relatives, the regulations issued from Washington provided that all hiring must be done from lists supplied the contractor by a hiring committee. The workweek was cut to thirty hours to spread the work a little further. Utah went one step beyond that and requested the road contractors to use a man for thirty hours only and then replace him with someone else. This meant that a worker would have a chance to earn a little less than fifteen dollars (thirty hours at forty eight cents an hour) and then give way to someone else. The contractors agreed to this restriction but declared that the responsibility for enforcing it must fall upon the inspector of the hiring committee. That put a double burden on me. First, I had to make sure that the men who were on a contractor’s payroll on a specific job had been chosen from the list provided by the committee. Then, I had to “wash up” a man who had his pittance of thirty hours and replace him with another from the list.

I would get the daily work record of each man on five to six highway crews–close to 200 persons considering that the contractors had a gang in the morning and another in the afternoon. My wife and I would go over these slips each evening, listing the hours worked by each man. That took considerable time each night, but the next day I would have in hand the records needed to sort out those who had worked their allotted hours. It was in this capacity that I met the man who toyed with heavy sacks.

Great Depression in Utah is just one resource on the Great Depression that is available in Writer’s Guide to Government Information.

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