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What is the government's role in the economy?

Exploring The Economic Role of Government Now and During The Great Depression

May 28, 2020

Exploring The Economic Role of Government Now and During The Great Depression

What's the role of government in the economy? Use this free lesson to discuss the current situation and the Great Depression with your students.

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What's The Role of Government in The Economy?

Read the summary and watch the video below then answer the discussion questions. To read the transcript, click here.

As U.S. businesses prepare for gradual reopenings, the number of Americans filing for unemployment seems to be leveling off.

  • 2.4 million people filed unemployment claims this past week, which is actually a significant drop from the surge in March. Still, the Labor Department says more than 38 million people sought jobless benefits in the past nine weeks.
  • As President Donald Trump departed for Michigan to tour a Ford factory now making ventilators, he insisted that economic recovery is imminent. “Relax, we’re doing great, it all will pass,” Trump said.
  • However, some economists and Trump administration officials have said that Depression-era levels of unemployment could set the U.S. economy back for years to come.” (See extension activity below for comparisons between the current economic crisis and the Great Depression.)

Role of Government Discussion Questions

  1. Essential question: What role should the U.S. government play in assisting the economy during the pandemic?
  2. How have different countries responded to COVID-19?
  3. What roles has the U.S. government played historically during crisis such as depressions and pandemics?
  4. Media Literacy: If time allows, watch NewsHour’s Making Sen$e segment How the pandemic has pushed U.S. retail toward the brink of collapse (includes transcript). This segment features several personal stories by employees who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. What strengths do these voices bring to a news story? Do you think it is important for news outlets to report on these stories? Explain.

Role of Government: Extension Activity

Comparisons between current economic crisis due to COVID and the Great Depression

DirectionsRead the excerpt from NewsHour’s article Could the coronavirus reshape America’s social safety net? and answer the questions below:

  • Why do you think the Federal government’s response was called a “New Deal?"
  • What are the key differences between the circumstances surrounding the Great Depression and the economic crisis taking place due to coronavirus? What do you think are similarities?
  • How can the government help people at this time? Explain.

"The initial crisis that led to the Great Depression — the stock market crash of 1929 — unfolded with astonishing speed, just as the coronavirus has spread across the U.S. seemingly overnight.

But by the time Roosevelt took office in 1933, the country had experienced three-plus years of severe economic suffering under President Herbert Hoover. Most Americans were angry with the ruling class for failing to turn the economy around, and frustrated that a promising new era of prosperity after World War I had somehow come crashing down."

Today’s Daily News Story was written by Yareni Murillo, a senior at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, with EXTRA’s Victoria Pasquantonio.


PBS NewsHour Classroom

PBS NewsHour Classroom helps teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.

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