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June 22: The G.I. Bill

Lawrence Bush
June 22, 2010

gibillThe G.I. Bill (“Serviceman’s Readjustment Act”) was signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on this date in 1944. Designed to avoid the domestic unrest that accompanied returning veterans in World War I — including the Bonus March of 1932, when mostly unemployed veterans were fired upon by troops in Washington, DC — the G.I. Bill provided unemployment benefits and opened doors to college and housing loans for millions of Americans. For Jews, it marked the beginning of the end for Jewish neighborhoods and extended family life as suburban tract housing (such as William Levitt’s Levittown) sprang up throughout the country. The G.I. Bill also launched a decade of economic transformation as hundreds of thousands of Jewish veterans sought college degrees and professional careers. The American “melting pot” thus reached full boil, and Jewish veterans and their families entered a new phase of social mobility and assimilation — tempered for many, however, by what they had seen or heard about the death camps of Europe.
“By 1956, when it expired, the education-and-training portion of the GI Bill had disbursed $14.5 billion to veterans—but the Veterans Administration estimated the increase in federal income taxes alone would pay for the cost of the bill several times over. By 1955, 4.3 million home loans had been granted, with a total face value of $33 billion. In addition, veterans were responsible for buying 20 percent of all new homes built after the war. The results rippled through the rest of the economy; there would be no new depression—just unparalleled prosperity for a generation.”, a project of the National Archives

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.