The GI Bill of Rights, or as it was officially called, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, was an effort by the United States to prevent the soon-to-be 15,440,000 World War Two veterans from creating a post-war depression.
The National Resources Planning Board, a division of the White House, began to study the potential problems that could arise at the end of WWII with the infusion of tremendous numbers of veterans into the economy. The worry was that the economy would not be able to absorb such large numbers of workers, wages would go down, and a gap would widen between production and consumption, as it had during the Great Depression.
By June of 1943, the Board recommended a series of programs to train and educate the returning veterans. If this plan were adopted, some veterans would go back to work while many others would first educate themselves. Not only would this plan allow for a more gradual absorption of the veterans into the workforce, it would also create many more skilled workers, and thus, a more productive economy. This plan was eventually adopted in the GI Bill of Rights.
In a radio address in 1943, President Roosevelt proposed to the nation a series of advantages that may be conferred to the veterans of the war after it ended. Upon hearing this, the American Legion, a veteran’s organization, began pushing hard for it. They played an active and very successful role in passing the GI Bill of Rights.
The American Legion first devised much of what the GI Bill of Rights soon came to be. Eventually, the GI Bill of Rights came to do two main things: provide veterans with loans for homes, small businesses, and farms; pay for veteran’s education and training; and created special unemployment payments for veterans. Soon, the bill was sent to congress and debated from there.
On January 10, 1944, the GI Bill of Rights was introduced in the House by Representatives by John Rankin of Mississippi and Edith Norse Rogers of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat and Republican members of the Veteran Affairs committee, respectively. It was introduced in the Senate the following day, January 11, 1944 by the chairman of the Senate Veterans subcommittee, Democratic Senator Joel Bennett “Champ” Clark of Missouri.
After its introduction in the House and the Senate, was pushed through congress by the American Legion. It should be noted that one of the outcomes of the American Legion’s publicity campaign was the name “GI Bill of Rights”. Up to this point, it had still been called the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944; Jack Cejnar, an American Legion publicist, coined the new term. The American Legion was vital to the success of the act; daily, they would send out telegrams to local Legionnaires updating them on the progress of the act and informing them of which congressmen were opposed to or against the GI Bill of Rights. By doing this, and waging a huge publicity campaign, the American Legion was largely successful in driving the bill through congress.
On March 24, 1944, the Senate voted 50 to 0 in favor of the act. It took slightly longer to get through the House, it ended up getting stuck in a House committee. However, on May 18, 1944, the House voted 387 to 0, also passing it.
At this point, as nearly all pieces of the legislation do, the GI Bill of Rights had picked up several amendments and had been modified differently in the Senate and the House. In order to resolve these differences, a conference committee between the Senate and the House was held with several members from the Senate and seven from the House.
In this committee, they came to one provision which the members of the committee from the House were spit on. The members from the Senate were in favor of the provision, but from the House, three were for it, three were against. One of the House members, Representative John Gibson of Georgia, was away on vacation in a lodge with no telephone. The chairman of the conference committee wanted to kill the bill, although an authorized proxy vote from Gibson had been sent, in favor of the provision, the chairman would not allow it.
Once again, the American Legion came to the rescue. They were able to locate Gibson; along with a police escort, they went speeding 90 miles per hour to the Jacksonville airport, where Gibson was flown back to Washington, D.C. He voted in favor of the provision and the finalized form of the act was sent back to be voted on in the House and Senate.
The GI Bill of Rights received its final approval from the House on June 13, 1944 and final approval in the Senate on June, 14 1944. It was signed and enacted into law by President Roosevelt on June 22, 1944.
But what exactly did the GI Bill of Rights do? Well, it did several key things. It provides federally subsidized education for all veterans who wanted it. It also made home, business, and farm loans available for all veterans. A twenty dollar per week unemployment would be granted to out of work veterans for a period not surpassing fifty two weeks. Veterans were also given job-finding assistance. Also, in order to allow more veterans to qualify, a military review of dishonorable discharges was now allowed.
The eligibility requirements were set so that only veterans of World War Two who had served their duties fully were conferred benefits. The requirements were as follows: the veteran must have served at least 90 days in the armed forces after September 16, 1940, and they must have a discharge other than a dishonorable one.
The government was especially generous when it came to education; they would provide a maximum of $500 a year for tuition, books, and other costs associated with an education at a college or other educational institute. Veterans would be supported for a time equal to the time they served in the armed forces with a maximum of 48 months plus a year of fulltime training. It must be kept in mind, this is $500 in the 1940’s; this would more than provide for a veteran’s education. The government would also provide $50 per month for living expenses. If you had dependents, the government would provide more. In 1946 and 1948, the government upped the amount dolled out from 50 to 65 to 75, respectively.
These educational benefits for veterans allowed the veterans much freedom while not imposing anything on educational systems. Educational systems were allowed to operate as they always had; they could accept or reject whomever they pleased. Veterans were allowed to go to any institution they were accepted to; they were not compelled to go to any specific institutions by the government.
The GI Bill of Rights program expired July 25, 1956. Out of a total of 15,440,000 veterans, 7.8 million utilized the GI Bill of Rights to attend college or some other educational system at a total cost of over $14.5 billion.
- 2,230,000 went to college.
- 1,400,000 had on-the-job training.
- 3,480,000 went to various other schools.
- 690,000 had farm training.
The GI Bill had a major effect on the way colleges were perceived in the United States. Previously, they had been rather elitist; the GI Bill of Rights was able to open them up to the common man. Previously, poor and older people rarely attended college. The GI Bill of Rights sent many poor people to college, many of which couldn’t have gone otherwise. By one estimate, 40% of all who attended college under the GI Bill of Rights wouldn’t have otherwise. Veterans seemed to dominate the classroom, in the peak year of 1947, 49% of all college students were veterans; this caused the mean student age to rise considerably. With the huge influx of students and funds, colleges expanded greatly. Between 1940 and 1950, the total number of degrees granted by colleges doubled. They hired more teachers, offered more classes, and built more buildings. Despite all this, college in the era was often characterized by overcrowding of classrooms.
Another aspect of the GI Bill of Rights, one that isn’t as emphasized as education is, yet is equally important, is housing. The GI Bill of Rights had a $2,000 home loan guarantee and offered loans for small businesses and farms as well. Returning veterans were thus able to buy their own homes. Despite the cost to the government of $33 billion for all the loans; they allowed a great overall increase in the economy. Approximately 20% of all homes purchased in the years following the war were purchased by veterans.
In 1988, congress was interested in discovering if the GI Bill of Rights had helped or hurt the economy, and how much it had. The Congressional Subcommittee of Education and Health of the Joint Economic Committee did a study of the effects of the GI Bill of Rights to answer this outstanding question. They found that it caused an extra $35 billion (1952 dollars) to be created over the next 35 years. It also brought in, in this 35 post-war period, an extra $12.8 billion (1952 dollars) of taxes. Overall, they found that for every $1 invested, there were $6.9 in return.
The GI Bill of Rights gave many veterans a free education and cheap home-loans. This helped in the economy in more than one way. Not only did it prevent a flood of workers from creating a post-war depression, as had happened after World War One, it also created a more productive economy. Veterans with an education could make more money and helped to build a more sound economy than could have ever been done without their educations.
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