Economic Spotter: Resources During World War II


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wajimaYou are an economic spotter! You can spot economic concepts in history. This lesson will take you back in time when the world was at war! During World War II, the United States was forced to make changes. There was a huge problem with scarcity! Scarcity is whenever there are limited resources and unlimited wants. Scarcity exists whenever the wants for a good or service exceed the resources needed to make that good or service. Can you spot the scarce resources needed to help the US win WWII?


In this lesson you will fill out a chart where they will list scarce items and tell how the people solved problem of scarcity. You will also write a paragraph on how America was changed forever by the new technology and the newly trained population of workers.


As an economic spotter, you should know all about SCARCITY. Scarcity occurs when wants are greater than the resources available to satisfy those wants. Scarcity forces us to make choices. If we can't have everything we would like, we must choose those things we want most. So people, and countries like the United States, must make choices about how to use the scarce resources available to them.

The United States had a scarcity problem at the start of World War II. The United States men to be soldiers, factories to make equipment, metals to build equipment, extra food to feed the soldiers, nylon to make parachutes, etc. All of the country's resources became even more scarce! The United States had some tough choices to make.

Let's think about the natural, human, and capital resources used in production of war materials. Natural resources include trees, water, minerals, oil (to make gasoline), and many more. What will a country do if it does not have enough oil for ALL the planes, ships, tanks, cars, etc. that need gasoline? So, the country must make a choice. Should the United States let the civilians back home have the gasoline made from oil, or send the gasoline to the war equipment?

Human resources, also called labor, were the men and women (women worked before WWII!) who worked to produce goods and services. The United States needed men to be soldiers. So, our human resources (the men of our country) were needed to go to war. Men became an even scarcer resource. Remember, scarcity means that people cannot have all the goods and services they want, so, they must choose some things and give up others. What do you think the country does when the men who worked in farms, factories, and businesses had to leave their jobs so that they could become soldiers?hammer & nail

Whenever a choice is made, something is given up. In the case of the men leaving their jobs to become soldiers, what was given up? Likewise, what did the country gain?

Capital resources include goods such as tools, equipment, machines, and buildings. Many capital goods were needed to produce war materials. How could America's factories make cars for people in the United States, and at the same time make more tanks? So, the country had to make a choice: use resources to help the war effort and go without at home or satisfy the wants of the civilians and go without on the war front. What choice do you think the United States made?

he war placed additional demands on scarce natural, human, and capital resources. Go to the time machine on the U.S. Mint's website. (You also may go directly to the The Great Depression and World War II activity.) and see if you can spot examples of how people in the United States solved some of its scarcity issues. You will be searching for examples in the Great Depression and World War II section. Print out the Great Depression and World War II worksheet and list all the scarce items you see on the site. Put this scarce items in the correct column (natural resource, human resource, or capital resource). Then write a sentence or two on what the United States gained and what they gave up when they made the choice to send the scarce resource to the war effort.

Let's see how you did!

Here's how the country coped with the scarcity of resources. The United States government started a rationing program during World War II, families could buy only so much gas, sugar, meat, and other goods. By rationing food in this way, the government could make sure that adequate supplies of food would be available for the war effort.

Did you mark your chart that the country gained another human resource when they sent the men to war? Before that time, very few women worked away from the home--not, at least, in heavy industrial jobs. But when all the men left for the war, someone had to fill their jobs. Click on and see the posters urging women to take jobs. go the "It's a Woman's War Too " page at the national archives and see the posters urging women to take jobs.

womanThe war effort trained a part of our population that had never been trained for technical jobs before! The women in America stepped up and did the job! STANDARD OF LIVING is a comparison of how the people of a country are doing, in terms of wealth compared to an earlier time. What do you think that the training of women meant to the country as far as the future standard of living? Think this through…women who were never trained for factory jobs before became technical workers. Women who never had a great deal of money before, started jobs that paid them better than they ever had been paid. When the men came back from the war, the country had double the amount of workers that were technically trained. You can see that the future standard of living is going to be higher because of the training the women got from their jobs.

There were new factories and new technology proved that production was faster if things were built on an assembly line. Remember that according to the story, it had previously taken a year to build a ship? But with new technology and pressure created by the great need for ships, the job later could be done in a week! Do you think all these changes meant that the future standard of living was going to be lower or higher in America?

After you have completed the lesson, use the attached Decision Making Grid form and complete the decision making grid. The problem that you will use the decision making grid will be: There is not enough oil to provide gasoline to all the war related equipment. How can the United States get enough oil for the war?


The standard of living in America was raised as a result of the new technology developed during the war and newly trained women who joined the workforce. Even though many resources were scarce, our government limited the domestic use of those resources and sent them off for the use in the war effort--or it found new resources to be used as substitutes for the scarce items.


Now think about these questions and write a paragraph telling what you think.

  1. Can you predict what happened to America after World War II?
  2. Do you think the standard of living in America was increased or decreased after the war? Standard of living is a comparison of how the people of a country are doing, in terms of wealth, compared to an earlier time.
  3. What happened to the American factories when the war ended and the government no longer needed these factories to build ships, ammunition, tanks, uniforms, and guns?
  4. What did American women do when the men returned from the war?
  5. How was America changed forever?