Grade 9-12

Unemployment and the New Deal

Time: 60 mins,
Updated: July 28 2020,


Students will be able to:

  • Analyze Great Depression unemployment data and New Deal programs to determine those programs’ possible impact.

In this economics lesson, students examine the impact of the New Deal on unemployment.



Tell students this lesson will focus on unemployment in the Great Depression. Show them Slides 2-6 in the Unemployment and the New Deal Slides. As you show each slide, ask them to think about any information they have about the Great Depression and write down one word describing the picture or information in the projected slide. Each student should have five different words recorded after viewing the slides. Have students share their words and comments.


Remind students that the Great Depression was a very significant event in our nation’s history. Ask if any of them have ever discussed it with older family members or friends who may have experienced it or knew someone who did. Explain that people’s experiences varied but all were impacted in some way – especially the average worker who lost their jobs and were unemployed for an extended period of time. Review the definition of unemployment (The number of people without jobs who are actively seeking work) and the unemployment rate (The number of unemployed people, expressed as a percentage of the labor force). Tell students it was also the first time in our nation’s history that the government played a big role in assisting people with federal programs such as unemployment compensation (a government program that provides income to people who have lost their jobs.) Tell students they will be watching a video that provides more information about life during that difficult time and the programs initiated to help them survive. Show the video Jobs and Relief. Debrief the video by asking the following questions: What does President Roosevelt claim is the country’s “greatest primary task” in the opening of the video? (Put people to work). When FDR took office, how many workers were without a job? (one out of four/25%) When FDR took office, how many workers could only find part time work? (one out of four/25%) What three new agencies mentioned in the video did FDR create between 1933 and 1935 to help put people back to work? (Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Public Works Administration (PWA) and Works Progress Administration (WPA). About how many men did CCC employ in its nine-year existence? (3 million men). What was the difference between the PWA and WPA? (The Public Works Administration (PWA) contracted with private construction companies to put additional people to work while the Works Progress Administration (WPA) hired the unemployed directly.) The WPA was the largest public works initiative in American history, employing 3.3 million at its height. What kinds of projects did the workers work on? (Roads, bridges, tunnels, parks, airports, schools, courthouses, post offices, and other public buildings.) What types of public art did the WPA program agencies help create? (Theater, literature, oral histories, music and dance)

Group Activity

Put students in small groups to evaluate the impact that New Deal programs had on unemployment. Hand out copies of Analyzing New Deal Programs and review the directions. Show students Slides 7-13 to introduce the assignment. Discuss student answers after they have completed the assignment. (Answers: Each program helped meet the objectives in FDR’s inaugural speech and reduced the unemployment rate.)

Individual Activity

Have each student use the information in the group activity to prepare a table with the following information: the name of the program, the year it was implemented, the year it ended, and the drop in unemployment during that period of time. Then, have them write a brief paragraph summarizing the purpose of the New Deal and its impact on unemployment. Use Slide 14 to debrief the activity and the lesson.


Have students take the 5 question Kahoot! Quiz to assess knowledge learned from the lesson.


Activity 1

Have students work in small groups to research other government agencies or programs that started during the Great Depression. Some of these include the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Housing Authority, Social Security, Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Have students report their findings to the class.

Activity 2

Invite a member of the local historical society to visit class to discuss some of the public works facilities or programs that resulted from the New Deal (parks, libraries, bridges, etc.)

Activity 3

Show students the video series Teachable Moments About the Great Depression. Have students write five things they learned from the series and share them with the rest of the class.