The Weekly Quill — Anatomy of a Policy Error

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“I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, in consonance with the joint resolution of Congress approved December 26, 1941, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 28, 1946, as a day of national thanksgiving; and I call upon the people of this Nation to observe that day by offering thanks to God for the bounties vouchsafed us, and by rededicating ourselves to the preservation of the ‘Blessings of Liberty’ envisaged by our forefathers in the preamble to the Constitution.”

On September 2, 1945, World War II ended. Some 452 days later, my mother must have felt her time had come. Not only did she ultimately decide to bless me by entering this world; she waited until the fourth Thursday of November to join the 3.4 million others who kicked off the Baby Boom. November 28, 1946 was both her birthday and a national holiday. In the 19 years through the end of 1964, 76 million U.S. babies, an annual average of 4.24 million, came into this world. By point of comparison, there were the only five years through 1993 that the Millennial generation saw births exceed the 4-million milestone. And despite the overall growth of the U.S. population, there have been only seven years since then that have seen absolute births pierce that same level.

A year after and thousands of miles northeast of where mom was borne in South Texas, Levitt and Sons, a construction company, purchased a seven-mile plot of potato and onion farms in Long Island, New York. It was there that the nation’s first subdivision came to be. In the prosperous postwar years, workers no longer had to be tethered to crowded cities to be close to the factories. If one could imagine, six-in-ten Americans had urban existences in 1950. It’s no wonder the appeal of open spaces, defined in Levittown as 6,000-square-foot lots, was infectious. Better yet, the GI bill had given returning soldiers free tuition and backing for the homes they bought. Planting roots on Long Island came at a cost of a $7,000 mortgage with no down and monthly payments of $29 compared to $90 in the city.

Location may be everything in real estate. But the timing of the dream of suburbia could not have been any more opportune. Masses of factories that had been churning out airplanes, ammunition and tanks were easily repurposed to mass-produce building materials. Abraham Levitt was a visionary on the labor front as well. In what became known as “the General Motors of the housing industry,” he hired unskilled laborers, each of which was assigned a singular task creating an assembly line that, at its peak was churning out one house every 16 minutes. When the saw dust settled, Levittown was a fully occupied neighborhood of 17,447 homes, seven shopping centers known as “village greens” and swimming pools to which suburbanite children could safely bike in the summers. Within a decade, there were 82,000 residents of what was justifiably, more than nominally, a town of its own.