From 1933 to 1941, Corrington Gill was a top level administrator and statistician in the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), Civil Works Administration (CWA), and Works Progress Administration (WPA) . By 1941, he had been named Assistant Commissioner of the WPA . In his 1939 book, Wasted Manpower: The Challenge of Unemployment, Gill developed a sophisticated analysis that challenged those who believe that “whoever finds himself out of a job must necessarily be lazy and shiftless, and that if someone really wants a job he can always find one by looking for it” .
Corrington Calhoun Gill was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan on January 18, 1898, to William E. Gill and Florence N. Calhoun. He had at least one sibling, brother Gaylord . He attended Central High School in Grand Rapids and then Detroit University School (c. 1912-1917) . On graduating, Gill joined the Navy and served off the French coast during the last two years of World War I. Afterward, he returned to the U.S. and began attending the University of Wisconsin. He married Julia Isabella Turnbull in 1922 and received his bachelor’s degree in 1923 .
Gill worked as a manager and correspondent for the Washington Press Service from 1923 to 1927; as an independent researcher and business consultant from 1927 to 1931; and as an economist and statistician for the Federal Employment Stabilization Board starting in 1931 . In 1933, Gill was asked to brief staff members of the newly-created FERA about the key issues involved in construction and unemployment. Shortly after the meeting, Harry Hopkins, the new relief administrator, hired him as an assistant. Recalling his early association with Hopkins, Gill said: “Daily association with him led me to the conviction that the evolution or, I might say, revolution of methods of caring for the unfortunate destitute people that took place between 1933 and 1935 was mostly attributable to his energy, fearlessness, and breadth of vision” .
Corrington Gill acted as a sort of Jack-of-all-trades for New Deal agencies. For example, he produced statistical and factual reports; traveled to England to study unemployment insurance and old age pension systems; went to Puerto Rico to set up a WPA program there; served on the Technical Board for the Committee on Economic Security (the group that formulated proposals for the Social Security Act); and defended work-relief programs in the pages of the New York Times .
Gill’s book Wasted Manpower was the culmination of his experiences dealing with America’s depressed labor market. He showed that joblessness was much higher during the 1920s than generally known and that unemployment persisted during the 1930s because of lagging demand for workers due to technological advance in industry, drought losses in agriculture, and a lack of new investment opportunities. He concluded that “a program of large public works ought to become a permanent part of our public investment program, complemented by an employment program of the WPA type” .
During World War II, Gill went on to be deputy director in the Office of Civilian Defense, a consultant to the War Department, the director of the Committee for Congested Production Areas, and a deputy director in the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. After serving the nation through so many difficult years, Gill died unexpectedly from a heart ailment at the age of 48, on July 12, 1946 . He was survived by his wife Julia and buried at Arlington National Cemetery . Though mostly forgotten today, Corrington Gill’s research and writing on the economic problems of the early twentieth-century offer a wealth of information for anyone interested in issues related to unemployment, technological advancement, and public investment .
Sources: (1) See, e.g., Howard B. Myers, “Corrington Calhoun Gill, 1898-1946,” Journal of the American Statistical Association, Vol. 41, Issue 235, 1946, p. 393-394. (2) See, e.g., Federal Works Agency, Summary of Relief and Federal Work Program Statistics, 1933-1940, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1941, introductory pages. (3) Corrington Gill, Wasted Manpower: The Challenge of Unemployment, New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1939, p. 9. (4) See note 1, and also “William E. Gill,” Kent County Michigan GenWeb Project, http://kent.migenweb.net/white1924/personal/gillwm.html, accessed March 18, 2016. (5) See previous note, GenWeb Project. (6) See note 1, and also see Edgar F. Waterman, The Waterman Family, Volume II: Descendants of Robert Waterman, New Haven, CT: The Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Co., 1942, p. 478. (7) See note 1. (8) Note 3, at p. 152. (9) See, e.g., Works Progress Administration, Analysis of Civil Works Program Statistics, Washington, DC, June 1939; “FERA Official In England,” New York Times, October 17, 1934; “Puerto Rico WPA Ready,” New York Times, October 2, 1939; “CES Report,” Social Security Administration, http://www.ssa.gov/history/reports/ces6.html, accessed March 18, 2016; Corrington Gill, “Who Gets Relief And How It Is Paid For,” New York Times, October 21, 1934; Corrington Gill, “White-Collar Work In Relief Defended,” New York Times, April 14, 1935; Corrington Gill, “The Case For Relief In An Era Of Recovery,” New York Times, August 29, 1937. (10) Note 3, p. 272. (11) “C.C. Gill, 48, Dead; Official Of UNRRA,” New York Times, July 14, 1946 (Gill’s obituary indicates he died on July 13, but his gravestone reads, “July 12”). (12) “Corrington Gill,” Find A Grave, http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=49189038, accessed March 18, 2016. (13) For confirmation of the importance of technological change (rising productivity) in the 1930s, and its effect on damping labor demand, see Alexander Field, A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.