mettlerGIBill - American Political Science Review Vol 96 No...

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American Political Science Review Vol. 96, No. 2 June 2002 Bringing the State Back In to Civic Engagement: Policy Feedback Effects of the G.I. Bill for World War II Veterans SUZANNE METTLER Syracuse University A merican civic engagement soared in the mid-twentieth century, succeeding an era in which national government had become more involved in citizens’ lives than ever before. I exam- ine the effects of the G.I. Bill’s educational provisions for veterans’ subsequent memberships in civic organizations and political activity. I consider theoretical arguments about how public social programs might affect civic involvement and advance a policy feedback approach that assesses both resource and interpretive effects of policy design. Newly collected survey and interview data permit the examination of several hypotheses. The analysis reveals that the G.I. Bill produced increased levels of participation—by more fully incorporating citizens, especially those from less privileged backgrounds, through enhancement of their civic capacity and predisposition for involvement. The theoretical frame- work offered here can be used to evaluate how other public programs affect citizens’ participation in public life. A merican civic engagement peaked in the mid- twentieth century, as memberships in civic or- ganizations soared and political participation reached record levels (Putnam 2000, chap. 1). This “golden age” succeeded a period in which national government had become more involved than ever be- fore in providing rights of economic security and well- being to American citizens. Was the sequencing of government-sponsored social opportunity and height- ened levels of civic activity merely a coincidence? If not, how did government programs encourage bene- ficiaries to become more active citizens? Current re- search cannot tell us, because analysts of civic and political participation focus primarily on individual de- mographic factors or social conditions. When govern- ment programs are discussed, the focus is generally on means-tested welfare programs, which are asso- ciated with lower levels of participation among re- cipients (Mead 1986; Piven and Cloward 1971). We know little about how major social programs that reach broad sectors of the population have shaped civic participation. This article examines the effects of the G.I. Bill of Rights, one of the most generous and inclusive social Suzanne Mettler is Associate Professor of Political Science, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Department of Political Science, Syracuse University, Eggers 100, Syracuse, NY 13244 ([email protected]). This research was supported generously by the National Academy of Education Postdoctoral Fellowship program and the Spencer Foundation, as well as the Center for Policy Research and Center for Demography and Economics of Aging, both at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. I am thankful to Wayne Grove, Jeff Stonecash, and, Eric Welch for numerous invaluable conver-
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