Employment and living standards

The Nazis promised to stop the suffering many Germans had felt since the end of World War One and make the economy strong again. Unemployment would disappear and Germany would become an autarky – though neither of these things truly happened.

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. They were no longer counted in the unemployment figures.

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. There were also a number of men working on public works schemes.
  • Jews who were sacked and their jobs given to non-Jews.
  • Women who were encouraged to give up their jobs to men.


Hitler wanted Germany to become an autarky – to produce everything that it needed. Certain materials like rubber were needed more as Germany geared up for war, and it was hoped that inventions would mean that this product could be produced synthetically (man-made) instead of needing to try and get it by trading. In 1937, Hermann Göring was made Economics Minister with the job of making Germany self-sufficient in four years. However, 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.

Changes in the standard of living

Despite the loss of freedom, life improved in Germany for many ordinary people who were prepared to conform and look the other way.

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

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

Big businesses - When trying to get into power, the Nazis had promised to tackle monopolies – the tendency of one company to hold all the interests in one area of business and dominate the market. By 1937 monopolies controlled over 70 per cent of production and the Nazis had links to major companies such as Krupp steel and IG Farben (which produced chemicals). Both of these areas would be important for rearmament, and from 1935 onwards major industrial companies definitely benefited. Profits rose 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. The Hereditary Farm Law of 1933 prevented farms from being repossessed from their owners, which gave farming families greater security. By 1937, agricultural prices had increased by 20 per cent and agricultural wages rose more quickly than those in industry. However, historians do disagree somewhat about the levels to which life in rural regions improved under the Nazis – not all of their promises were met.

Industrial workers

Photo of Adolf Hitler meeting industrial workers in Germany

Pre-1933 the Nazis had lacked support amongst the workers, who tended to vote for the communists or the Social Democratic Party. However, given the needs of rearmament it was important that the workers were controlled and productive. To this end, the Nazis set up three organisations for 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.

Those working in the rearmament industries aside, living standards did not really improve for German workers under the Nazis. From 1933 to 1939 wages fell, the number of hours worked rose by 15 per cent, serious accidents in factories increased and workers could be blacklisted by employers if they attempted to question their working conditions.