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Wage Wars: Institutional Politics, WPA Wages, and the Struggle for U.S. Social Policy

Edwin Amenta and Drew Halfmann
American Sociological Review
Vol. 65, No. 4 (Aug., 2000), pp. 506-528
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2657380
Page Count: 23
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Wage Wars: Institutional Politics, WPA Wages, and the Struggle for U.S. Social Policy
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Abstract

The WPA was the most expensive and politically prominent U.S. social program of the 1930s, and the generosity and very nature of U.S. social policy in its formative years was contested through the WPA. In this article, an institutional politics theory of social policy is elaborated that incorporates the influence of both institutional conditions and political actors: Institutions mediate the influence of political actors. Specifically, it is argued that underdemocratized political systems and patronage-oriented party systems dampen the cause of generous social spending and the impact of those struggling for it. State actors, left-party regimes, and social movements spur social policy, but only under favorable institutional conditions. To appraise this theory, key Senate roll-call votes on WPA wage rates are examined, as well as state-level variations in WPA wages at the end of the 1930s. The analyses, which include multiple regression and qualitative comparative analysis, support the theory.

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