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The Brief American Pageant , Sixth Edition
David M. Kennedy, Stanford University
Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University
Thomas A. Bailey
Mel Piehl, Valparaiso University
Primary Sources

Introduction | Questions to Consider | Source | Related Links

Depression and the New Deal

Instructors' Note
One approach to incorporating this chart might be to review with students the various New Deal employment programs. You might want to compare the numbers of people employed by each program with the totals for each year presented on this chart. This is also a good chance to point out to students that it is always necessary to evaluate a program's goal to see whether or not it was achieved. Although lessening unemployment was an admirable goal of the New Deal, you will want to discuss with the students why FDR's program was not as successful as World War II in accomplishing it.

If you want to broaden the discussion, you can have students debate the role of the federal government in the nation's employment situation.

You might also point out that figures represent people as indicated in the introduction to the exercise.

One man wrote to a newspaper in 1932, I am forty-eight; married twenty-one years; four children, three in school. For the last eight years I was employed as a Pullman conductor. Since September, 1930, they have given me seven months part-time work. Today I am an object of charity. . . . My small, weak, and frail wife and two small children are suffering and I have come to that terrible place where I could easily resort to violence in my desperation.

The figures in this chart can only begin to suggest the widespread human misery caused by mass unemployment.

Questions to Consider
  1. How is this chart measuring unemployment?

  2. The chart starts with the 1929 Stock Market Crash and ends right after the United States entered World War II. According to the chart, when was unemployment at its highest?

  3. Why were they being moved?

  4. According to the chart, when was unemployment at its lowest?

  5. One of the goals of the New Deal was to lower unemployment. From the information presented on this chart, does it appear to have been successful?

  6. What event listed on the chart did more than the New Deal to end the nation's unemployment problem? Why was it more successful?


unemployment chart

Source: Thomas A. Bailey, David M. Kennedy, and Lizabeth Cohen.
The American Pageant, 11th ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998), 818.


Related Links

  • New Deal Network
    A database of photographs, political cartoons, and texts from the period.