One of my favorite military blog-thingies has a li’l something to say about the GI Bill (go read the article if you don’t like me chopping it up and making snarky comments):
«In 1947, largely because of the GI Bill, 49 percent of students admitted to colleges were veterans. By the time the original bill expired, nearly half of the 16 million World War II veterans had received a college education or participated in a vocational training program. In 1955 the Veterans Administration backed 4.3 million loans, including nearly a third of all home loans, with a total face value of $33 billion — about $316 billion in 2020 dollars.
It would be difficult to overstate the impact of the GI Bill on American society. An article in The Saturday Evening Post concluded that “the 1950s’ prosperity wouldn’t have been possible without millions of veterans who had upgraded their skills with the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act … and set a new standard of living for themselves and their children and grandchildren.” The GI Bill funded the educations of 22,000 dentists, 67,000 doctors [hey, did I ever mention my dad, a vet, got his MD around this time?], 91,000 scientists, 238,000 teachers, 240,000 accountants, 450,000 engineers, 14 Nobel Prize winners, and two dozen Pulitzer Prize winners.
By 1956, the education and training benefits had paid out $14.5 billion, about $137 billion in 2020 dollars. Congress estimated that for every dollar spent under the GI Bill, the U.S. economy received seven dollars in return. While it might be difficult to measure exactly, the post-World War II economic boom in which the United States grew to be the dominant economic power in the world was to a significant degree underwritten by the GI Bill. America was trying to do right by its veterans and they returned the favor.
The bill in some ways was also a boost for American equality. Children from poor immigrant Jewish, Irish, and Italian [somebody in my extended family had Italian grandparents who came over in the 1920s and were discriminated against] families in the cities, as well as those from poor rural farm families, had an opportunity for a college education that their parents never could have dreamed of. Tablet magazine notes that
«before the war, the college-bound were drawn almost entirely from white, elite circles; what’s more, cleverly designed quota systems made sure to keep the Jews at bay. After the war, the potential pool of applicants was now more diverse — racially, ethnically, and religiously — than ever before.»
The new rising middle class in post-World War II America was much more diverse than it had been, thanks to the GI Bill.»
Yay, the GI Bill, making everything post-war in America great!
«But it was still largely white, and that wasn’t an accident.
The key sponsor of the bill in the House was Rep. John Rankin, a notorious racist from Mississippi. Rankin had fought for laws banning interracial marriage, against laws penalizing lynching, and for the poll tax. Rankin ensured that particular language was included in the law to ensure race would be taken into account:
«No department, agency, or officer of the United States, in carrying out the provisions of this part, shall exercise any supervision or control, whatsoever, over any State educational agency, or State apprenticeship agency, or any educational or training institution.»
States’ Rights! Woo-hoo! \o/ And he didn’t even have to be explicit about race! Win!
«Rankin knew that, at least in the South, the GI Bill’s education benefits would be filtered through state agencies that were governed by both the formal and informal rules of Jim Crow. He could rely on the banks and the Federal Housing Administration to help ensure that the home loans would also be restricted.»
Red-lining! More win!
«The bill paid for college, but how many colleges were open to black Americans? In the South, blacks were barred completely from most colleges and universities, and in the North their options were extremely limited.
…for blacks in the South, where two-thirds of the black veterans were from, “The G.I. Bill exacerbated rather than narrowed the economic and educational differences between blacks and whites.” President John F. Kennedy sent the National Guard to force the desegregation of the University of Alabama in 1963. The World War II GI Bill expired in 1956.»
Yeah, but the university was desegregated! Everything’s all fixed now! Right?
«While black veterans had somewhat better access to vocational training than to the college benefit, here too the value in practice was rather limited. A study compiled from data from the Bureau of the Census, the National Urban League, the Southern Regional Council, and the American Veterans Committee observed:
«Only eleven cities had any formal vocational or technical training facilities. Only Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D. C, among those cities with segregated school systems, had satisfactory schools which Negro veterans could attend. In cities where color lines were not drawn, Negro veterans were able to attend only the industrial arts departments of high schools. These give only a general training which is not applicable to a specific job.»
The study noted,
«Because of the limited training opportunities, a number of individuals and groups have set up special vocational training courses for Negro veterans. Although these courses have, in every case, been approved by the Department of Education in the respective states, it is doubtful if many of them meet minimum standards for this type of training.»
«The data for the other major component of the GI Bill, home loan guarantees, is even worse.»
Ok, gonna skip the redlining part, because we have enough horribleness for one blog post, thank you.
Cut to the chase:
«America made a promise to these men and women of the “Greatest Generation” and, frankly, we broke it. Looking at the United States today, the average net worth of an African American family is about one-tenth that of a white family. That didn’t just happen. Two significant mechanisms for building wealth are education and home ownership.
It’s time for a World War II GI Bill Restoration Act. Under this act anyone who can document that they had an African American direct ancestor who served honorably during World War II and did not use the GI Bill benefits to which they were lawfully entitled would be eligible to receive the benefits under the current GI Bill, as well as the same housing loan support the Department of Veterans Affairs provides to current veterans. Not a new program, just an expansion of the eligibility rules of existing ones, with the details of administering it to be worked out by the department. This won’t be without cost, but on the education front it’s really an investment that will pay the country back. And home loan guarantees only cost something if the borrower defaults.»
Martin Luther King, Jr. said something about a promissory note. We should make good on it.