Employment and living standards in Nazi Germany

The German people had suffered terribly during both the First World War and the Depression and a huge part of the Nazis’ appeal was that they promised to make Germany’s economy strong again. Hitler aimed for full employment and by 1939 there was virtually no official unemployment in Germany. He also wanted to make Germany self-sufficient (a concept known as autarky), but the attempt to do so was ultimately unsuccessful.

How Hitler increased employment

Three factors of how Hitler increased employment: Public Works, Rearmament and National Service
  • He began a huge programme of public works, which included building hospitals, schools, and public buildings such as the 1936 Olympic Stadium. The construction of the autobahns created work for 80,000 men.
  • Rearmament was responsible for the bulk of economic growth between 1933 and 1938. Rearmament started almost as soon as Hitler came to power but was announced publicly in 1935. This created millions of jobs for German workers.
  • The introduction of the National Labour Service (NLS) meant all young men spent six months in the NLS and were then conscripted into the army.

Invisible employment

Although Germany claimed to have full employment by 1939, many groups of people were not included in the statistics, including:

  • The 1.4 million men in the army at this time.
  • Jews who were sacked and their jobs given to non-Jews.
  • Women who were encouraged to give up their jobs to men.


The policy of autarky attempted to make Germany self-sufficient, so it would no longer be necessary for Germans to trade internationally. In 1937 Hermann Göring was made Economics Minister with the job of making Germany self-sufficient in four years. The measures he introduced, such as tighter controls on imports and subsidies for farmers to produce more food, were not successful. By the outbreak of World War Two Germany was still importing 20 per cent of its food and 33 per cent of its raw materials.

Impact of Nazi economic policies on German people

Despite the loss of freedom, life improved in Germany for many ordinary people who were prepared to conform in order to have a job and a wage.

Nazi economic policies had different effects on different groups in society:

Data visualisation showing the affects of Nazi policies on German businesses.

Big businesses - The Nazis had promised to curb the power of monopolies, but by 1937 they controlled over 70 per cent of production. Rearmament from 1935 onwards boosted profits of big weapons companies, and managers of the major industrial companies saw their incomes rise by 50 per cent between 1933 and 1939.

Small business - Rules on opening and running small businesses were tightened, which resulted in 20 per cent of them closing.

Farmers - Having been one of the main sources of their electoral support during their rise to power, farmers benefitted under the Nazis. By 1937, agricultural prices had increased by 20 per cent and agricultural wages rose more quickly than those in industry. The Hereditary Farm Law of 1933 prevented farms from being repossessed from their owners, which gave farming families greater security.

Industrial workers

Photo of Adolf Hitler meeting industrial workers in Germany

Before 1933 the Nazis had lacked support amongst the workers, who tended to vote for the communists or the Social Democratic Party. The needs of German rearmament made it important that workers were productive and controlled. so the Nazis set up three organisations that would manage German workers:

  • The Labour Front. This was a Nazi organisation that replaced Trades Unions, which were banned. It set wages and nearly always followed the wishes of employers, rather than employees.
  • Strength Through Joy. This scheme gave workers rewards for their work - evening classes, theatre trips, picnics, and even very cheap or free holidays.
  • Beauty of Labour. The job of this organisation was to help Germans see that work was good, and that everyone who could work should. It also encouraged factory owners to improve conditions for workers.

The living standards of German workers in the non-armaments industries did not really improve under the Nazis. From 1933 to 1939:

  • wages fell
  • the number of hours worked rose by 15 per cent
  • serious accidents in factories increased
  • workers could be blacklisted by employers for questioning their working conditions