Federal tax policy was highly contentious during the war, with Roosevelt battling a conservative Congress. Everyone agreed on the need for high taxes to pay for the war. Roosevelt tried unsuccessfully to increase tax on incomes over $25,000, while Congress enlarged the base downward. By 1944 nearly every employed person was paying federal income taxes (compared to 10% in 1940).
Many controls were put on the economy. The most important were price controls, imposed on most products and monitored by the Office of Price Administration. Wages were also controlled. In addition, the military imposed priorities that largely shaped industrial production.
The unemployment problem ended in the United States with the beginning of World War II, when stepped up wartime production created millions of new jobs and the draft pulled young men out.
Women also joined the workforce to replace men who had joined the forces, though in fewer numbers. Roosevelt stated that the efforts of civilians at home to support the war through personal sacrifice was as critical to winning the war as the efforts of the soldiers themselves. "Rosie the Riveter" became the symbol of women laboring in manufacturing. The war effort brought about significant changes in the role of women in society as a whole. At the end of the war, many of the munitions factories closed. Other women were replaced by returning veterans. However most women who wanted to continue working did so.
In the figure below the development of the United States labor force by sex during the war years.
|Year||Total labor force (*1000)||of which Male (*1000)||of which Female (*1000)||Female share of total (%)|
Labor shortages were felt in agriculture, even though most farmers were given an occupational exemption and few were drafted. Large numbers volunteered or moved to cities for factory jobs. At the same time many agricultural commodities were more needed for the military and for the civilian populations of Allies. In some areas schools were temporarily closed at harvest time to enable students to work. Several hundred thousand enemy prisoners of war were used as farm laborers.
The war mobilization changed the relationship of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) with both employers and the national government; much less is known about the rival American Federation of Labor (AFL) during the war.
Nearly all the unions that belonged to the CIO were fully supportive of both the war effort and of the Roosevelt administration. However the Mine Workers, who had taken an isolationist stand in the years leading up to the war and had opposed Roosevelt's reelection in 1940, left the CIO in 1942. The CIO, in particular the United Auto Workers (UAW), supported a wartime no-strike pledge that aimed to eliminate not only major strikes for new contracts, but also the innumerable small strikes called by shop stewards and local union leadership to protest particular grievances.
The CIO did not, on the other hand, strike over wages during the war. In return for labor's no-strike pledge, the government offered arbitration to determine the wages and other terms of new contracts. Those procedures produced modest wage increases during the first few years of the war but not enough to keep up with inflation, particularly when combined with the slowness of the arbitration machinery.
Even though the complaints from union members about the no-strike pledge became louder and more bitter, the CIO did not abandon it. The Mine Workers, by contrast, who did not belong to either the AFL or the CIO for much of the war, engaged in a successful twelve-day strike in 1943.
But the CIO unions on the whole grew stronger during the war. The government put pressure on employers to recognize unions to avoid the sort of turbulent struggles over union recognition of the 1930s, while unions were generally able to obtain maintenance of membership clauses, a form of union security, through arbitration and negotiation. Workers also won benefits, such as vacation pay, that had been available only to a few in the past while wage gaps between higher skilled and less skilled workers narrowed.
The experience of bargaining on a national basis, while restraining local unions from striking, also tended to accelerate the trend toward bureaucracy within the larger CIO unions. Some, such as the Steelworkers, had always been centralized organizations in which authority for major decisions resided at the top. The UAW, by contrast, had always been a more grassroots organization, but it also started to try to rein in its maverick local leadership during these years.
The CIO also had to confront deep racial divides in its own membership, particularly in the UAW plants in Detroit where white workers sometimes struck to protest the promotion of black workers to production jobs, but also in shipyards in Alabama, mass transit in Philadelphia, and steel plants in Baltimore. The CIO leadership, particularly those in further left unions such as the Packinghouse Workers, the UAW, the NMU and the Transport Workers, undertook serious efforts to suppress hate strikes, to educate their membership and to support the Roosevelt Administration's tentative efforts to remedy racial discrimination in war industries through the Fair Employment Practices Commission. Those unions contrasted their relatively bold attack on the problem with the timidity and racism of the AFL.
The CIO unions were progressive in dealing with gender discrimination in wartime industry, which now employed many more women workers in nontraditional jobs. Unions that had represented large numbers of women workers before the war, such as the UE and the Food and Tobacco Workers, had fairly good records of fighting discrimination against women. Most union leaders saw women as temporary wartime replacements for the men in the armed forces. It was important that the wages of these women be kept high so that the veterans would get high wages.
The Civil Air Patrol was established, which enrolled civilian spotters in air reconnaissance, search-and-rescue, and transport. Its Coast Guard counterpart, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, used civilian boats and crews in similar roles. Towers were built in coastal and border towns, and spotters were trained to recognize enemy aircraft. Blackouts were practiced in every city, even those far from the coast. All lighting had to be extinguished to avoid helping the enemy in targeting at night. The main purpose was to remind people that there was a war on and to provide activities that would engage the civil spirit of millions of people not otherwise involved in the war effort. In large part, this effort was successful, sometimes almost to a fault, such as the Plains states where many dedicated aircraft spotters took up their posts night after night watching the skies in an area of the country that no enemy aircraft of that time could possibly hope to reach.
The United Service Organizations (USO) was founded in 1941 in response to a request from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide morale and recreation services to uniformed military personnel. This request led six civilian agencies—the Salvation Army, Young Men's Christian Association, Young Women's Christian Association, National Catholic Community Service, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board—to unite in support of the troops. The United Service Organizations, or USO, was incorporated in New York on February 4, 1941.
Legions of women previously employed only in the home, or in traditionally female work, took jobs in factories that directly supported the war effort, or filled jobs vacated by men who had entered military service.
In 1940 Congress passed the first peace-time draft legislation, which was led by Grenville Clark. It was renewed (by one vote) in summer 1941. It involved questions as to who should control the draft, the size of the army, and the need for deferments. The system worked through local draft boards comprising community leaders who were given quotas and then decided how to fill them. There was very little draft resistance.
The nation went from a surplus manpower pool with high unemployment and relief in 1940 to a severe manpower shortage by 1943. Industry realized that the Army urgently desired production of essential war materials and foodstuffs more than soldiers. (Large numbers of soldiers were not used until the invasion of Europe in summer 1944.) In 1940-43 the Army often transferred soldiers to civilian status in the Enlisted Reserve Corps in order to increase production. Those transferred would return to work in essential industry, although they could be called back to active duty if the Army needed them. Others were discharged if their civilian work was deemed absolutely essential. There were instances of mass releases of men to increase production in various industries.
In the figure below an overview of the development of the United States labor force, the armed forces and unemployment during the war years.
|Year||Total labor force (*1000)||Armed forces (*1000)||Unemployed (*1000)||Unemployment rate (%)|
One contentious issue involved the drafting of fathers, which was avoided as much as possible. The drafting of 18-year olds was desired by the military but vetoed by public opinion. Supposedly, Blacks and Asians were drafted at the same rate as Whites. The experience of World War I regarding men needed by industry was particularly unsatisfactory—too many skilled mechanics and engineers became privates (there is a possibly apocryphal story of a banker assigned as a baker due to a clerical error, noted by historian Lee Kennett in his book "G.I."). Farmers demanded and were generally given occupational deferments (many volunteered anyway, but those who stayed at home lost postwar veteran's benefits.)
Later in the war, in light of the tremendous amount of manpower that would be necessary for the invasion of France, many earlier deferment categories became draft eligible.
There was large-scale migration to industrial centers, especially on the West Coast. Millions of wives followed their husbands to military camps. Many new military training bases were established or enlarged, especially in the South. Large numbers of African Americans left the cotton fields and headed for the cities. Housing was increasingly difficult to find in industrial centers; commuting by car was limited by gasoline rationing. People car pooled or took public transportation, which was seriously overcrowded. Trains were heavily booked, so people limited vacation and long-distance travel.
At the beginning of World War II, a rationing system was begun in the United States. Tires were the first item to be rationed in January 1942 because supplies of natural rubber were interrupted. Soon afterward, passenger automobiles, typewriters, sugar, gasoline, bicycles, footwear, fuel oil, coffee, stoves, shoes, meat, lard, shortening and oils, cheese, butter, margarine, processed foods (canned, bottled and frozen), dried fruits, canned milk, firewood and coal, jams, jellies and fruit butter, were rationed by November 1943.
To get a classification and a book of rationing stamps, one had to appear before a local rationing board. Each person in a household received a ration book, including babies and small children. When purchasing fuel, a driver had to present a gas card along with a ration book and cash. Ration stamps were valid only for a set period to forestall hoarding.
Women took on an active role in World War II.
Women took on many paid jobs in temporary new munitions factories and in old factories that had been converted from civilian products like automobiles. This was the "Rosie the Riveter" phenomenon.
They also filled many traditionally female jobs that were created by the war boom—as waitresses, for example. And they broke into jobs that had almost always been held by men—such as bank teller or shoe salesperson. Nearly one million women worked as so called "government girls," taking jobs in the federal government, mainly in Washington, DC, that had previously been held by men or were newly created to deal with the war effort.
During World War II, women began to gain more respect and men realized that women actually could work outside of the home. They fought for equal pay and made a huge impact on the United States workforce. They began to take over "male" jobs and gained confidence in themselves.
In general when they replaced men they came with fewer skills. Industry retooled its machine jobs so that unskilled workers could handle them. (This opened many jobs for men who had been unemployed in the 1930s). Some unions tried to maintain the same pay scale as men had because they expected men to resume their jobs after the war. At the Oak Ridge plant separating U-235 for the Manhattan Project, it was noted that the girl "hill-billy" operators employed by Tennessee Eastman outperformed the scientists first used on the calutrons.
Women staffed millions of jobs in community service roles, such as USO and Red Cross while the men were at war.
The Women Airforce Service Pilots, also known as WASP, and the predecessor groups the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) (official from September 10, 1942) were each a pioneering organization of civilian female pilots employed to fly military aircraft under the direction of the United States Army Air Forces during gender-sensitive days of World War II that eventually would number in the thousands of female pilots, each freeing up a male pilot for combat service and duties. The WFTD and WAFS were combined on August 5, 1943 to create the para-military WASP organization.
Marriage and motherhood came back as prosperity empowered couples who had postponed marriage. The birth rate started shooting up in 1941, paused in 1944-45 as 12 million men were in uniform, then continued to soar until reaching a peak in the late 1950s. This was the "Baby Boom."
In a New Deal-like move, the federal government set up the "EMIC" program that provided free prenatal and natal care for the wives of servicemen below the rank of sergeant.
Housing shortages, especially in the munitions centers, forced millions of couples to live with parents or in makeshift facilities. Little housing had been built in the Depression years, so the shortages grew steadily worse until about 1948, when a massive housing boom finally caught up with demand. (After 1944 much of the new housing was supported by the GI bill.)
Federal law made it difficult to divorce absent servicemen, so the number of divorces peaked when they returned in 1946. In long-range terms, divorce rates changed little.
Juggling their roles as mothers due to the Baby Boom and the jobs they filled while the men were at war, women strained to complete all tasks set before them. The war caused cutbacks in automobile and bus service, and migration from farms and towns to munitions centers. Those housewives who worked found the dual role difficult to handle.
The worst psychological pressure came when sons, husbands, brothers and fiances were drafted and sent to faraway training camps, preparing for a war in which nobody knew how many would be killed. Millions of wives tried to relocate near their husbands' training camps.
The FEPC was a federal executive order requiring companies with government contracts not to discriminate on the basis of race or religion. It assisted African Americans in obtaining jobs in industry. Under pressure from A. Philip Randolph's growing March on Washington Movement, on June 25, 1941, President Roosevelt created the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) by signing Executive Order 8802. It said "there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin". In 1943 Roosevelt greatly strengthened FEPC with a new executive order, #9346. It required that all government contracts have a non-discrimination clause. FEPC was the most significant breakthrough ever for Blacks and women on the job front. During the war the federal government operated airfield, shipyards, supply centers, ammunition plants and other facilities that employed millions. FEPC rules applied and guaranteed equality of employment rights. Of course, these facilities shut down when the war ended. In the private sector the FEPC was generally successful in enforcing non-discrimination in the North, it did not attempt to challenge segregation in the South, and in the border region its intervention led to hate strikes by angry white workers.
The African American community in the United States resolved on a Double V Campaign: Victory over fascism abroad, and victory over discrimination at home. Large numbers migrated from poor Southern farms to munitions centers. Racial tensions were high in overcrowded cities like Chicago; Detroit and Harlem experienced race riots in 1943.The derogative name jig was coined during this time. The Pittsburgh Courier created the Double V Campaign after readers began commenting on their second class status during wartime.
In 1942 the War Department demanded that all enemy nationals be removed from war zones on the West Coast. The question became how to evacuate the estimated 120,000 people of Japanese citizenship living in California. Roosevelt looked at the secret evidence available to him: the Japanese in the Philippines had collaborated with the Japanese invasion troops; most of the adult Japanese in California had been strong supporters of Japan in the war against China. There was evidence of espionage compiled by code-breakers that decrypted messages to Japan from agents in North America and Hawaii before and after the attack on Pearl Harbor. These MAGIC cables were kept secret from all but those with the highest clearance, such as Roosevelt. On February 19, 1942, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which set up designated military areas "from which any or all persons may be excluded." The most controversial part of the order included American born children and youth who had dual U.S. and Japanese citizenship.
In addition to the Japanese, thousands of civilian Germans and Italians were interned; some with their families, some taken from their families. They were given hearing, but had no representation of their own. These internees were picked up by the FBI based on records compiled prior to and at the beginning of the War.
In February 1943, when activating the 442nd Regimental Combat Team—a unit composed mostly of American-born American citizens of Japanese descent living in Hawaii—Roosevelt said, "No loyal citizen of the United States should be denied the democratic right to exercise the responsibilities of his citizenship, regardless of his ancestry. The principle on which this country was founded and by which it has always been governed is that Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry." In 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of the executive order in the Korematsu v. United States case. The executive order remained in force until December when Roosevelt released the Japanese internees, except for those who announced their intention to return to Japan.
Italy was an official enemy, and citizens of Italy were also forced away from "strategic" coastal areas in California. Altogether, 58,000 Italians were forced to relocate. They relocated on their own and were not put in camps. Known spokesmen for Mussolini were arrested and held in prison. The restrictions were dropped in October 1942, and Italy switched sides in 1943 and became an American ally. In the east, however, the large Italian populations of the northeast, especially in munitions-producing centers such as Bridgeport and New Haven faced no restrictions and contributed just as much to the war effort as other Americans.
Roosevelt easily won the bitterly contested 1940 election, but the Conservative coalition maintained a tight grip on Congress. Wendell Willkie, the defeated GOP candidate in 1940, became a roving ambassador for Roosevelt. After a series of squabbles with Vice President Henry A. Wallace, Roosevelt stripped him of his administrative responsibilities and dropped him from the 1944 ticket, choosing instead Senator Harry S. Truman. Truman was best known for investigating waste, fraud and inefficiency in civilian programs. In very light turnout in 1942 the Republicans made major gains. In the 1944 election, Roosevelt defeated Tom Dewey in a relatively close race that attracted little attention.
The media cooperated with the federal government in presenting the official view of the war. All movie scripts had to be pre-approved. World War II posters helped to mobilize the nation. Inexpensive, accessible, and ever-present, the poster was an ideal agent for making war aims the personal mission of every citizen. Government agencies, businesses, and private organizations issued an array of poster images linking the military front with the home front—calling upon every American to boost production at work and at home. Deriving their appearance from the fine and commercial arts, posters conveyed more than simple slogans. Posters expressed the needs and goals of the people who created them. By definition, wartime posters are naturally propagandistic, but most posters were merely patriotically so. Some, however, resorted to extreme racial and ethnic caricatures of the enemy, sometimes as hopelessly bumbling cartoon characters, sometimes as evil, half-human creatures. The National Archives, Northwestern University and the University of Minnesota all have extensive collections of World War II posters accessible online that contain many examples of posters of the era in regard to the use of propaganda, both subtle and patriotic, and blatantly anti-German and Japanese.
One of the most noteworthy areas of civilian involvement during the war was in the area of recycling. Many everyday commodities were vital to the war effort, and drives were organized to recycle such things as rubber, tin, waste kitchen fats (the predominant raw material of explosives and many pharmaceuticals) paper, lumber, steel and many others. Popular phrases promoted by the government at the time were "Get into the scrap!" and "Get some cash for your trash" (a nominal sum was paid to the donor for many kinds of scrap items) and Thomas "Fats" Waller even wrote and recorded a song with the latter title. Such commodities as rubber and tin remained highly important as recycled materials until the end of the war, while others, such as steel, were critically needed at first, but in lesser quantities as damaged war materiel were returned from overseas for scrapping, lessening the need for civilian scrap metal drives. Once again, war propaganda played a prominent role in many of these drives.
A strong aspect of American culture then as now was a fascination with celebrities, and many stars of Hollywood and radio gave service above and beyond the call in the donation of their time for everything from being Civilian Defense marshals to making personal appearances at War Bond drives. Bonds were the money that financed the war, and Bond drives where celebrities appeared were always very successful. Several stars were responsible for personal appearance tours that netted multiple millions of dollars in bond pledges—an astonishing amount in 1943. The public paid 3/4 of the face value of a war bond, and received the full face value back after a set number of years. While this may have represented a rather unspectacular interest rate, the government has never defaulted on payment of any mature bond. People were challenged to put "at least 10% of every paycheck into Bonds". Compliance was very high, with entire factories of workers earning a special "Minuteman" flag to fly over their plant if all workers belonged to the "Ten Percent Club". There were seven major War Loan drives, all of which exceeded their goals. An added advantage was that citizens who were putting their money into War Bonds were not putting it into the home front wartime economy. There was a job for anyone who wanted one during the war, most of them well-paid. Personal income was at an all-time high, and more dollars were chasing fewer goods to purchase. This was a recipe for economic disaster that was largely avoided because Americans—cajoled daily by their government to do so—were also saving money at an all-time high rate, mostly in War Bonds but also in private savings accounts and insurance policies.
Hollywood studios also went all-out for the war effort, as studios allowed their major stars (such as Clark Gable and James Stewart) to enlist, and also created propaganda films to remind American moviegoers of their heritage. Many of the finest films of the era are about the war, such as Casablanca, Mrs. Miniver, and Going My Way, while others, such as Yankee Doodle Dandy, focused on patriotism.
Cartoons and short subjects were a major sign of the times, as Warner Brothers Studios and Disney Studios gave unprecedented aid to the war effort by creating cartoons that were both wildly patriotic (and very funny), and also contributed to remind movie-goers of important wartime activities such as rationing and scrap drives, war bond purchases, and the creation of victory gardens. Warner shorts such as Draftee Daffy, Russian Rhapsody and Daffy - The Commando are particularly remembered for their biting wit and unflinching mockery of the enemy (particularly Hilter, Tojo and Hermann Goering. Their cartoons of Private Snafu, produced for the military as "training films", served to remind many military men of the importance of following proper procedure during wartime, for their own safety. Hanna Barbara also contributed to the war effort with slyly pro US short cartoon The Yankee Doodle Mouse with "Lt" Jerry Mouse as the hero and Tom Cat as the "enemy".
Walt Disney's studio also helped the war effort, as almost every cartoon produced by Disney in this period dealt with the war effort. Each Disney cartoon began with a headshot of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, or Goofy, and during this time each wore an Army or Navy cap. Disney produced a B-Feature based on the book, Victory Through Air Power and several promotional and comical shorts on the importance of rationing, buying bonds and paying one's income tax ("Taxes Against the Axis"). Education for Death was a Disney short documentary based on the book of the same name, on the making of a Nazi; demonstrating the cruelty of Hitler's Reich against even its own citizens, weeding out the "weak or inferior" and breeding hatred and obedience in its people, devoid of compassion. Der Fuehrer's Face aka Donald Duck in Nutziland, starring Donald living a nightmare in German province and working in a munitions plant, was one of the most popular and famous cartoons of the period. The song from the cartoon - "Der Fuehrer's face" recorded by Spike Jones & the City Slickers - also became very popular for its contempt of Nazi leaders:
Disney's famous Three Little Pigs song "Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf" became a rallying cry for civilians during the war. In a short during the war years, the familiar pigs and wolf were re-imagined with the "bricks" in the Practical Pig's house being actually made of war bonds, and the Big Bad Wolf is shown wearing a swastika, representing Nazi Germany.
Disney Cartoon Mascots during the War:
Warner Brothers Cartoon Mascots during the War: