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Public Works Program Definition and Examples

Public works programs (PWP) are government activities that are created to help the poor in exchange for their labor or services. The government can pay cash, and give food or vouchers in exchange for services or labor that are often intensive. Public works programs are also known as public employment programmes or cash-for-work programmes.

Types of Public Works Programs

  1. Short-term public works programmes
  2. Long-term public works programmes

Short term 

Short-term programs are created to ease a sudden crisis or economic depression. It is easier to design and implement because it is not going to last for a long time. Short term public works programmes provide immediate cash income that can provide temporary relief from economic hardship or crisis.

Long term 

A long-term PWP lasts over an extended period of time and its main objective is to reduce the level of poverty in the economy. It is usually created during an economic depression and it is a type of expansionary fiscal policy that is applied by the government in order to stimulate the economy to grow. An example of a long-term public works program is the public works administration of the United States which was created for the purpose of reviving the United States economy during the Great Depression. In this case, the government spends money by creating different public works projects that are labor-intensive, that way the poorest can be employed to carry out these public works projects and through it, they can have reliable sources of income. Any public work program that is regarded as long term typically lasts for at least 75 to 100 days.

Public Works Program
Public Works

Examples of Public Works Programs

  1. Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)
  2. Civil Works Administration (CWA)
  3. Farm Security Administration (FSA)
  4. National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 (NIRA)
  5. The Social Security Administration (SSA)

The public works programs examples mentioned above are part of the NEW DEAL programs that were created by President Franklin Roosevelt of the United States of America during the great depression of the 1930s.

Recent Public Works Programs Examples

  • Chinese economic stimulus program of 2008–2009
  • European Union stimulus plan of 2008
  • American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

Other common public works programs examples today are the NPower program and the special public works program of Nigeria; in the United States of America, some PWP still existing include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Rural Electrification Administration, and Farm Security Administration, which is now part of the Farmers Home Administration.


PWPs help to create employment, especially during an economic downturn such as the great depression of 1929 to 1939. By embarking on enormous projects, the government spends more than it gets from taxes or other sources of revenue; this is known as expansionary fiscal policy. Government spending in the form of payment of cash to those that are vulnerable helps to alleviate poverty and makes money available to the citizens. When money is available to the people, it increases aggregate demand which in turn stimulates the economy because the private sector would try to increase production by employing more people.

There are other benefits of public works programs such as helping vulnerable people to cope following natural disasters and humanitarian shocks such as crises.

Furthermore, the dignity of vulnerable people is improved because they work in exchange for cash instead of mere handing over of cash.

Limitations and Disadvantages

There is no significant evidence of public works programs sustaining employment or improving the lives of the affected people either through improved nutrition or education. This may be because of weak institutions that are required to checkmate possible errors and corruption in payments.

FAQs on Public works program

What are public works programs?

Public works programs were government-funded programs to help the poor in exchange for their labor or services. In these programs, the poor are paid in cash or in-kind like food in exchange for their labor.

Why were public works programs an important component of the new deal?

The cash-for-work programs were an important component of the new deal because they provided support for those that were unemployed, the elderly, farmers, and the youth. The PWPs of the New Deal also helped to reform and guard the safety of the banking sector while also making efforts to grow the economy after the deflation caused by the great depression. 

Which president asked congress for money for public works program?

After the stock market crash of 1929, President Herbert Hoover wanted to prevent the spreading of panic that may affect the economy, so he asked Congress for more spending on public works programs, a $160 million tax cut, and he continued to encourage states as well as private businesses to create new jobs. 

Why did Hitler choose to expand public works programs?

Hitler chose to expand public works programs because he wanted to use his new technology to attack France. 

What were the public works programs during the great depression?

The PWPs of the great depression was known as the New Deal and some common programs were the Civilian Conservation Corps, Civil Works Administration, Farm Security Administration, National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, and The Social Security Administration.

What do public works programs provide?

Public works programs provide employment and a source of income to the poor while also creating infrastructures for the general populace. The government can decide to embark on public works project of building an airport that helps to provide jobs for the poor and when completed, the airport benefits the general public.

Why did public works programs fall out of favor?

There is no evidence of the productiveness of PWPs compared to the high cost of maintaining these programs.

Which was an example of a public works program?

The public works administration was an example of public works program that was created by President Roosevelt in the USA during the great depression of the 1930s.

Which act encouraged poor people to join public works programs?

The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 was created to eliminate poverty and increase the safety net for the poor and unemployed. 

What was the largest public works program in American history?

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was the largest public works program in American history because it created about 8 million jobs through the building and renovation of numerous public works projects such as 1,050 airports, surfaced 639,000 miles of roads, renovated 39,370 schools, 15,100 auditoriums, gymnasiums, and recreational buildings, 2,550 hospitals, etc

What type of projects did public works programs undertake?

The projects that the public works programs undertake cut across the various aspect of life such as recreation ( creation of beaches and parks for entertainment purposes); aesthetics such as planting of trees to beautify the streets; economy such as the creation of new industries that can employ vulnerable people; as well as buildings for police stations and courts to ensure law and order

What were Roosevelt’s public works programs?

President Franklin Roosevelt’s Public Works Programs were:

– National Youth Administration (NYA),
– Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC),
– Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA),
– United States bank holiday,
– Abandonment of gold standard,
– Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC),
– Homeowners Loan Corporation (HOLC),
– Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA),
– Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA),
– National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA),
– Public Works Administration (PWA),
– Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC),
– Glass–Steagall Act,
– Securities Act of 1933,
– FERA camp for unemployed black women,
– Civil Works Administration (CWA),
– Indian Reorganization Act,
– Social Security Act (SSA),
– Works Progress Administration (WPA),
– National Labor Relations Act (NLRA),
– Judicial Reorganization Bill,
– Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC),
– Surplus Commodities Program (1936),
– Fair Labor Standards Act 1938,
– Surplus Commodities Program of 1936,
– Rural Electrification Administration (REA),
– Resettlement Administration (RA),
– Farm Security Administration (FSA), now exists as part of the Farmers Home Administration.

Are there any current public works programs in the USA?

These are the current public works programs still existing in the United States of America since they were formed during the great depression:

– Abandonment of gold standard
– Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA),
– Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC),
– Securities Act of 1933,
– Social Security Act (SSA),
– National Labor Relations Act (NLRA),
– Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) – this was restructured but still exists
– Surplus Commodities Program is still existing but renamed as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
– Fair Labor Standards Act 1938, still exists but some adjustments had been made to the minimum hours of work week and the minimum wage amount.
– Rural Electrification Administration (REA),
– Farm Security Administration (FSA), now exists as part of the Farmers Home Administration.