On 22 June 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the GI Bill, an unprecedented act of legislation designed to compensate returning members of the armed services–known as GIs–for their efforts in WWII.
As the last of its sweeping New Deal reforms, Roosevelt’s administration created the GI Bill–officially the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944–hoping to avoid a relapse into the Great Depression after the war ended. There is much debate if FDR’s socialist legislation caused the Great Depression to last for such a long time–or if it finally caused the depression to end; most likely the end was caused by WWII. FDR particularly wanted to prevent a repeat of the Bonus March of 1932, when 20,000 unemployed veterans and their families flocked in protest to Washington. The American Legion, a veteran’s organization, successfully fought for many of the provisions included in the bill, which gave returning servicemen access to unemployment compensation, low-interest home and business loans, and–most importantly–funding for education.
By giving veterans money for tuition, living expenses, books, supplies and equipment, the G.I. Bill effectively transformed higher education in America. Before the war, college had been an option for only 10-15% of young Americans, and university campuses had become known as a haven for the most privileged classes. By 1947, in contrast, vets made up half of the nation’s college enrollment; three years later, nearly 500,000 Americans graduated from college, compared with 160,000 in 1939.
The GI Bill became one of the major forces that drove an economic expansion in America that lasted 30 years after WWII. Only 20% of the money set aside for unemployment compensation under the bill was given out, as most veterans found jobs or pursued higher education. Low interest home loans enabled millions of American families to move out of urban centers and buy or build homes outside the city, changing the face of the suburbs. Over 50 years, the impact of the GI Bill was enormous, with 20 million veterans and dependents using the education benefits and 14 million home loans guaranteed, for a total federal investment of $67 billion.