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Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945
The Dust Bowl
I'd Rather Not Be on Relief - Song Lyrics

"I'd Rather Not Be on Relief" was sung in the Shafter Farm Security Administration (FSA) migrant worker camp in the early 1940s. The Farm Security Administration was a government program that built camps to house migrant workers. The WPA referred to in the song is the Works Progress Administration, a government program that paid people to work on special government projects. The CIO is the Congress of Industrial Workers, founded in 1935 to organize workers and increase their bargaining power with employers. Several problems faced by migrant workers are represented in the words of the song. What are some of the problems? Why, according to the words of the song, would migrant workers rather not be on relief or work for the WPA? What action does the song suggest the migrant workers take to better their lives?

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I'D RATHER NOT BE ON RELIEF

We go around all dressed in rags
While the rest of the world goes neat,
And we have to be satisfied
With half enough to eat.
We have to live in lean-tos,
Or else we live in a tent,
For when we buy our bread and beans
There's nothing left for rent.

I'd rather not be on the rolls of relief,
Or work on the W. P. A.,
We'd rather work for the farmer
If the farmer could raise the pay;
Then the farmer could plant more cotton
And he'd get more money for spuds,
Instead of wearing patches,
We'd dress up in new duds.

From the east and west and north and south
Like a swarm of bees we come;
The migratory workers
Are worse off than a bum.
We go to Mr. Farmer
And ask him what he'll pay;
He says, "You gypsy workers
Can live on a buck a day."

I'd rather not be on the rolls of relief,
Or work on the W. P. A.,
We'd rather work for the farmer
If the farmer could raise the pay;
Then the farmer could plant more cotton
And he'd get more money for spuds,
Instead of wearing patches,
We'd dress up in new duds.

We don't ask for luxuries
Or even a feather bed.
But we're bound to raise the dickens
While our families are underfed.
Now the winter is on us
And the cotton picking is done,
What are we going to live on
While we're waiting for spuds to come?

Now if you will excuse me
I'll bring my song to an end.
I've got to go and chuck a crack
Where the howling wind comes in.
The times are going to better
And I guess you'd like to know
I'll tell you all about it,
I've joined the C. I. O.


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View the original document from Voices from the Dust Bowl, 1940-1941. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.