The Great Depression & New Deal 8th grade Social Studies Unit 5 Great Depression

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The Great Depression & New Deal

8th grade Social Studies

Unit 5

Great Depression

  • Definition: A period in time from 1929 until 1941, when the U.S. economy crashed and did very poorly (GDP dropped, unemployment increased, and negative inflation (deflation).

Causes of the Great Depression

DIRECTIONS: Read the information below and answer the questions that follow. For each cause below, rewrite each cause in your own words in the space provided.

Cause # 1 - Income distribution was uneven ( )

  1. What percentage share of income growth does the top 1% of Americans have in 2007? In 1967? In 1927?

  2. What percentage share of income growth does the bottom 90% of Americans have in 2007? In 1967? In 1927?

  3. What does the chart below tell us about the wealthiest 1% of Americans? Why is that a problem?

Cause #2 - Buy now, Pay Later ( )

  • Many people who were willing to listen to the advertisers and purchase new products did not have enough money to do so.

  • To get around this difficulty, the 1920s produced another innovation—“credit,” an attractive name for consumer debt.

  • People were allowed to “buy now, pay later.”

  • This only put off the day when consumers accumulated so much debt that they could not keep buying up all the products coming off assembly lines. That day came in 1929.

  1. What group of people might advertisers be targeting with the ad below? Why?

  2. What was the problem with so many people using credit to buy products? Is that a problem today?

  3. What could people have done back then to avoid the problem with credit?

Cause #3 - American Farmers were already poor ( )

  • During WWI, farmers produced more food to help feed millions of soldiers.

  • But after the war, too many farmers were producing too much food, they had a surplus.

  1. What would happen to the price of food if there are too many farmers making food? What effect does the price of food have on farmers’ ability to make a profit?

Cause #4 - International Lending Problems ( )

  • Many American banks loaned money to countries after WWI, particularly Germany.

  1. Why would loaning money to Germany after WWI be a potential problem for the American banks?

Cause #5 - The Stock Market ( )

  • Many people began buying stocks “on margin”, meaning they paid only a small part of the stocks’ value (10%), and borrowed the rest (90%) on loan from a bank.

  1. What is the danger in buying stocks “on margin”?

Economic Terms:

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP): The amount of money a country makes in one year.

    • The higher the GDP, the better.

  • Inflation:

    • There are two types of inflation:

      • Positive: Increase in price of goods, meaning your dollar buys less

      • Negative (aka Deflation): Decrease in price of goods, meaning your dollar buys more. Also means your actual debt increases.

    • The best type of inflation for the economy is a low % (but not negative %).

  • Unemployment: The percentage of people in a country not working.

    • The lower the unemployment rate, the better.

Discussion Questions: You will need to look at the charts on the next few pages to answer the questions below

  1. How did U.S. GDP compare before the Great Depression, during the Great Depression, and after the Great Depression?

  1. How did U.S. inflation compare before the Great Depression, during the Great Depression, and after the Great Depression?

  1. How did U.S. unemployment compare before the Great Depression, during the Great Depression, and after the Great Depression?

  1. Given the data you’ve examined and your answers to the questions above, what can you reasonably conclude about the effects of the Great Depression?

DIRECTIONS: Underline or circle every law (“Act”) or organization mentioned in the reading material below.

Great Depression Leads to a New Deal for the American People

On March 4, 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address before 100,000 people on Washington's Capitol Plaza. "First of all," he said, "let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." He promised that he would act swiftly to face the "dark realities of the moment" and assured Americans that he would "wage a war against the emergency" just as though "we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe." His speech gave many people confidence that they'd elected a man who was not afraid to take bold steps to solve the nation's problems.

The next day, the new president declared a four-day bank holiday to stop people from withdrawing their money from shaky banks. On March 9, Congress passed Roosevelt's Emergency Banking Act, which reorganized the banks and closed the ones that were insolvent (without cash). In his first "fireside chat" three days later, the president urged Americans to put their savings back in the banks, and by the end of the month almost 3/4 of them had reopened.

The First Hundred Days

Roosevelt's quest to end the Great Depression was just beginning. Next, he asked Congress to take the first step toward ending Prohibition—one of the more divisive issues of the 1920s—by making it legal once again for Americans to buy alcohol. (At the end of the year, Congress ratified the 21st Amendment and ended Prohibition for good.)

In May, he signed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act into law, enabling the federal government to build dams along the Tennessee River that controlled flooding and generated inexpensive hydroelectric power for the people in the region. That same month, Congress passed a bill that paid commodity farmers (farmers who produced things like wheat, dairy products, tobacco and corn) to leave their fields fallow in order to end agricultural surpluses and boost prices.

The Second New Deal

Despite the best efforts of President Roosevelt and his cabinet, however, the Great Depression continued--the nation’s economy continued to struggle; unemployment continued; and people grew angrier and more desperate. So, in the spring of 1935, Roosevelt launched a second, more aggressive series of federal programs, sometimes called the Second New Deal. In April, he created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to provide jobs for unemployed people. WPA projects weren’t allowed to compete with private industry, so they focused on building things like post offices, bridges, schools, highways and parks. The WPA also gave work to artists, writers, theater directors and musicians.

In July 1935, the National Labor Relations Act, also known as the Wagner Act, created the National Labor Relations Board to supervise union elections and prevent businesses from treating their workers unfairly. In August, FDR signed the Social Security Act of 1935, which guaranteed pensions to millions of Americans, set up a system of unemployment insurance and stipulated that the federal government would help care for dependent children and the disabled.

In 1936, while campaigning for a second term, FDR told a roaring crowd at Madison Square Garden that “The forces of ‘organized money’ are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.” He went on: “I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match, [and] I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces have met their master.” This FDR had come a long way from his earlier repudiation of class-based politics and was promising a much more aggressive fight against the people who were profiting from the Depression-era troubles of ordinary Americans. He won the election by a landslide.

Still, the Great Depression dragged on. Workers grew more militant: In December 1936, for example, the United Auto Workers started a sit-down strike at a GM plant in Flint, Michigan that lasted for 44 days and spread to some 150,000 autoworkers in 35 cities. By 1937, to the dismay of most corporate leaders, some 8 million workers had joined unions and were loudly demanding their rights.

The End of the New Deal?

Meanwhile, the New Deal itself confronted one political setback after another. Arguing that they represented an unconstitutional extension of federal authority, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court had already invalidated reform initiatives like the NRA and the AAA. In order to protect his programs from further meddling, in 1937 President Roosevelt announced a plan to add enough liberal justices to the Court to neutralize the “obstructionist” conservatives. This “Court-packing” turned out to be unnecessary–soon after they caught wind of the plan, the conservative justices started voting to uphold New Deal projects–but the episode did a good deal of public-relations damage to the administration and gave ammunition to many of the president’s Congressional opponents. That same year, the economy slipped back into a recession when the government reduced its stimulus spending. Despite this seeming vindication of New Deal policies, increasing anti-Roosevelt sentiment made it difficult for him to enact any new programs.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. The war effort stimulated American industry and, as a result, effectively ended the Great Depression.

DIRECTIONS: Use the reading from pp. 8 – 11 to complete the table below.

New Deal Program/Act Name

Year Created

What cause of the Great Depression did this program correct?

  1. 21st Amendment


Overturned prohibition of alcohol, stimulating the growth of the economy (GDP) by making it legal for people to buy alcohol.

Discussion Questions: You will need to look at the charts on p. 10 to answer the questions below

New economic terms:

  • Deficit: The difference in trade between one country and others. The larger the deficit the worse the indication for a country’s economy.

In the projected charts below, the following events occur:

    • A new president is elected in 2016. This new president starts his presidency by beginning a war with Iran in the Middle East.

    • Many oil-producing Middle Eastern countries refuse to trade oil with the United States.

    • Many tens of thousands of young Americans are recruited into the U.S. military.

  1. Using the events above and the charts on p. 14, interpret the data given to you and reach at least four conclusions on the economic factors indicated below that you can back up with specifically-cited data.

Economic Factor

Conclusion (what is its relationship to the economy)

Cited Source





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