Did employment and living standards progress or suffer in Nazi Germany?

When Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933, one in four German adults were unemployed. The Nazis needed to combat this to ensure their people remained happy. What did the Nazis do to tackle this issue, and were they successful in resolving it?

You can download the worksheet for today’s lesson here. If you are unable to download the worksheet, please complete the tasks in the yellow boxes below.

Real wages = The wage of a worker might increase, yet the price of that worker’s food and rent might also increase as well. If this happens, then the worker’s ‘real wage’ remains the same, or might even fall. This measurement of wages helps us to understand if somebody is actually becoming wealthier when their wage increases.
Autobahn = a German motorway
Conscription = when you are forced to join the army.

Look at the line graph below and answer the following questions:

1) What is the line graph telling you about the change in the number of unemployed people in Nazi Germany over time?
2) Why would it have been important for Hitler to deal with unemployment?
3) CHALLENGE: The statistics for this table come directly from Nazi Germany. Can we rely on them? Why/why not?

TASK ONE: What did Hitler do to tackle unemployment and the lives of German workers?

Read through the information below on the ways in which the Nazis attempted to solve Germany’s unemployment crisis. Under each of the following headings, describe the key features of each, explaining why it might help German workers:

1) The National Labour Service (RAD)
2) The Autobahn Project
3) The Labour Front (DAF)
4) Strength through Joy (KdF)
5) Rearmament

How did the Nazis tackle Germany’s unemployment crisis?

The National Labour Service (RAD)

In 1933, the Reichs Arbeits Dienst (National Labour Service – RAD) was set up. This was a voluntary organisation that paid unemployed men to do public work for the Nazi state. Men could be paid to repair roads, clear forests or complete other important work that needed to be done.

In 1935, the RAD was made compulsory for all unemployed men in Germany. It’s number hit 422,000 in that year, providing the Nazis with a huge workforce that could complete public work projects.

The RAD were disciplined and trained like another military unit by the Nazis.

The Autobahn Project

One of the biggest public work projects undertaken by the Nazi state was its construction of the autobahn, or motorway, system. 7,000 miles of motorways were built by RAD workers under the Nazis, linking major German cities to one another. 125,000 men were assigned to motorway construction in 1935, allowing the network to expand rapidly in Germany.

The construction of the autobahns didn’t just provide employment to unemployed workers; there were further benefits to this project. Trade and transport between major cities became cheaper and faster, allowing the German economy to grow quickly. More jobs became available to German workers as a result of the project.

In addition to the autobahn network, RAD workers were also assigned work to construct public buildings, walls, bridges and footpaths. These projects also contributed to growth in the German economy.

A Nazi propaganda poster celebrating the work of the RAD and its Autobahn Project.

The German Labour Front (DAF)

We have already seen how Hitler shut down the trade unions in Germany, and encouraging all German workers to sign up to the German Labour Front instead. Trade unions are important institutions for workers because they help workers fight unfair treatment by employers, and also help fight for higher wages.

Yet the DAF did help control businesses to some extent, and made sure workers were paid a minimum wage and that their hours were not excessive.

A Nazi propaganda poster encouraging German workers to sign up to the DAF.

Strength through Joy (KdF) programme

To encourage workers to be proud of the work they did, the Nazi state introduced the Strength through Joy programme (or the KdF programme). The KdF programme rewarded workers with benefits such as cinema, sports or theatre tickets for loyal workers. The most loyal workers were even rewarded with holidays or cruises abroad.

The Nazis also developed their first widely affordable car to the average German worker – the Volkswagen (the ‘people’s car’). Under the KdF programme, German workers could pay 5 marks a week from their wages to allow them to eventually earn their own car.

Volkswagen beetles form a line of traffic in central Berlin in the late 1930s. Suddenly, the luxury of private travel became a reality for a number of German workers.


The Treaty of Versailles reduced the German army to just 100,000 men. Hitler rejected the terms of the Treaty, and wanted to build the German army to an immense strength.

In 1935, military conscription was introduced. It was expected that all young German men would serve a short period in the German army. By 1939, there was a staggering 1,360,000 men in the German army. This went some way to reducing the figure of unemployment in Germany.

A growing army also created a growing demand for arms and military equipment. Spending on military goods by the Nazi state skyrocketed – from 3.5 billion marks in 1933 to 26 billion marks in 1939. A number of German military factories expanded quickly. The aircraft construction industry was a major benefactor in this expansion.

Rearmament did not just mean employment for soldiers; it also meant factories expanded to keep up with the demand of the German army for military equipment.

TASK TWO: Did employment and the conditions of workers in Nazi Germany actually improve?

Read the key facts about unemployment and living standards in the blue and red boxes below.
Complete the green table below to help you argue how far the Nazis improved the position of workers in Germany between 1933 and 1939.


Unemployment did decrease in Nazi Germany because:
– Nazi initiatives gave people work. The RAD and the growing German army actually gave Germans jobs, ensuring that a large number of unemployed people were brought into the German workforce.
– Nazi initiatives stimulated the German economy. The completion of autobahns led to better travel and trade, and a growing army led to greater demands from factories. These initiatives encouraged businesses to expand, meaning the economy grew and more jobs were created.

But we could also argue that the Nazis did not deal with unemployment effectively because:
– Women and Jews were not included in unemployment data. These people were forced out of work, so actually the Nazis probably didn’t deal with unemployment as effectively as it appears.
– More people were in concentration camps, and these people were not officially labeled as ‘unemployed’. Again, the data is therefore not accurate.
– Jobs in the RAD and soldier jobs were not long-term jobs. Can we really say that those who were employed in these positions had proper ’employment’?


The Nazis improved the living standards of workers because:
– As more people were employed, they were able to live a more comfortable life. Wages also increased on average by 20% between 1933 and 1939.
– Workers enjoyed the benefits of the KdF programme, and enjoyed leisure activities and holidays by working hard.
– The DAF was supposed to protect workers’ wages and hours.

But we could also argue that the Nazis did not improve the living standards because:
Real wages did not improve that much under the Nazis as food and rent became more expensive.
– Only ‘model workers’ were given privileges under the KdF programme. Women and Jews could not gain these benefits. Any workers who were not loyal to the Nazis or their employers were punished by the DAF.
– Workers were working an extra 6 hours a week by 1939 compared to 1933.
– The absence of strong trade unions meant that workers lost the power to negotiate their wages.
– Not many workers could actually afford the Volkswagen car.

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