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Sociological Researcher Links State of U.S. Welfare to Growth of Military-Industrial Complex

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - April 5, 2010
CONTACT: Daniel Fowler, (202) 527-7885, pubinfo@asanet.org

WASHINGTON, DC - A leading Washington State University (WSU) sociologist argues in a recently published study that the United States' failure to achieve health care and social welfare reforms on a par with the world's other most affluent democracies was a result of the growth of the U.S. military-industrial complex during World War II.

In an article published in the April 2010 issue of the American Sociological Review, WSU sociologists Gregory Hooks and  Brian McQueen, argue that economic mobilization and the creation of the military-industrial complex in the United States was a major factor in the electoral defeat of Democratic congressional members from the North and West who had championed the New Deal Policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

While New Deal social programs had helped Democrats win congressional elections in the 1930s, the researchers found the nation's heavy investment in war manufacturing and resulting demographic shifts — including the migration of blacks and other minorities seeking defense-related work — caused Democrats to lose ground politically both during and after the war, especially in the nation's larger war production centers.

Federal investments in defense industries, particularly in aviation, had a powerful impact on employment, the researchers note. With defense contractors providing well-paying jobs, New Deal employment programs grew increasingly less popular, prompting Republicans to achieve significant political gains.

"This study helps explain why the late 1940s was a critical juncture in the development of the U.S. welfare state," said Hooks and McQueen. "Although wartime elections that proved costly to northern and western Democrats were not in any simple way a referenda on New Deal social policies, these elections played a profound role in institutionalizing the United States' 'stingy welfare state.'"

Despite repeated efforts by the Truman Administration, the post-war congress declined to expand on the universal New Deal social policies of the preceding congress, opting instead for what the researchers call "an uneven patchwork of public and private alternatives which left an enduring imprint on the nation's social policy." Conservative postwar congresses rejected universal health care and social welfare.

Hooks and McQueen write that, in the United States and other developed nations, the social policy reforms that emerged in the first decade following the end of WWII have endured and continue to reflect the political ideologies, which inspired them at the time.  

"Where a robust welfare state was created, these policies and programs were consolidated in the ensuing decades," the researchers write. "Where efforts to consolidate a welfare state failed during this critical period, subsequent efforts have confronted the greatest obstacles."

The full text of Hooks' and McQueen's article, entitled "American Exceptionalism Revisited: The Military-Industrial Complex, Racial Tension, and the Underdeveloped Welfare State," is available in the April edition of "American Sociological Review."

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About the American Sociological Association

The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org), founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society. The American Sociological Review is the flagship journal of the ASA, and was founded in 1936 with the mission to publish original works of interest to the sociology discipline in general, new theoretical developments, results of research that advance our understanding of fundamental social processes, and important methodological innovations.

Reporters interested in obtaining a copy of the report should contact Dan Fowler (see contact information above).