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The G.I. Bill and U.S. Social Policy, Past and Future*

  • Theda Skocpol (a1)


The fiftieth anniversary of the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt arrived only months after the 1994 U.S. elections brought to power conservative Republican congressional majorities determined to reverse key legacies of Roosevelt's New Deal. At this juncture of special poignancy for many of those assembled at the “Little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia on April 12, 1995, President Bill Clinton offered remarks on “Remembering Franklin D. Roosevelt.” “Like our greatest presidents,” Clinton eulogized, Roosevelt “showed us how to be a nation in time of great stress” and “taught us again and again that our government could be an instrument of democratic destiny.”



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1 All quotes from this speech are from Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by the President at ‘Remembering Franklin D. Roosevelt,’ 50th Anniversary Commemorative Services,” The Little White House, Warm Springs, Georgia, 04 12, 1995, 5 pp. typescript.

2 For an overview of the 1944 G.I. Bill and basic facts about it, see Bennett, Michael J., “The Law That Worked,” and Olson, Keith W., “The Astonishing Story: Veterans Make Good on the Nation's Promise,” both in Educational Record, vol. 75, no. 4 (Fall 1994).

3 See Levitan, Sar A. and Cleary, Karen A., Old Wars Remain Unfinished: The Veteran Benefits System (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973); and Educational Testing Service, Final Report on Educational Assistance to Veterans: A Comparative Study of Three G.I. Bills, submitted to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, United States Senate, 09 20, 1973 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1973).

4 Bennett, , “The Law That Worked”; and Moley, Raymond Jr., The American Legion Story (New York: Duell, Sloane, and Pearce, 1966), p. 281.

5 Olson, Keith W., “The G.I. Bill and Higher Education: Success and Surprise,” American Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 5 (12 1973), p. 601.

6 Olson, , “The G.I, Bill and Higher Education.”

7 The 20 percent estimate comes from the leading historian of the G.I. Bill. See Olson, Keith W., The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1974), p. 102.

8 Behrman, Jere R., Pollak, Robert A., and Taubman, Paul, “Family Resources, Family Size, and Access to Financing for College Education,” Journal of Political Economy, vol. 97, no. 21 (1989), pp. 398419.

9 Hutchins, Robert, “Threat to American Education,” Collier's, vol. 114 (12 30, 1944), pp. 2021.

10 Fine, Benjamin, “Educators Praise Their G.I. Students: Colleges throughout the Nation Agree That Standards Have Been Raised by Veterans,” New York Times, 10 11, 1949, p. 35. A key study was Frederiksen, Norman and Schrader, W. B., Adjustment to College: A Study of Ten Thousand Veteran and Nonveteran Students in Sixteen American Colleges (Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 1951). For a full discussion and citations to many other studies, see Olson, , The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges.

11 Kerr, Clark, “Expanding Access and Changing Missions: The Federal Role in U.S. Higher Education,” Educational Record, vol. 75, no. 4 (Fall 1994), pp. 2731.

12 Starr, Paul, The Discarded Army (New York: Charterhouse, 1973), p. 233.

13 O'Neill, David, “Voucher Funding of Training Programs: Evidence from the G.I. Bill,” Journal of Human Resources, vol. 12, no. 4 (Fall 1977), pp. 425–45; Angrist, Joshua D., “The Effects of Veterans' Benefits on Education and Earnings,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review, vol. 46, no. 4 07 1993), pp. 637–52.

14 On these contemporary conditions, see Freeman, Richard B., ed., Working under Different Rules (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1994); and Newman, Katherine S., Declining Fortunes: The Withering of the American Dream (New York: Basic Books, 1993).

15 Veterans' Benefits in the United States: A Report to the President by the President's Commission on Veterans' Pensions (Washington, CXI: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1956), pp. 300306.

16 Ibid.; and Moley, , The American Legion Story, p. 282.

17 Veterans' Benefits in the United States, ch. 3. For the continuity of this comparison into the 1970s, see Taussig, Michael, Those Who Served: Report of the Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on Policies toward Veterans (New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1974), pp. 51, 55.

18 Hartmann, Susan M., The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s (Boston, MA: Twayne Publishers, 1982), pp. 105–7.

19 Starr, , The Discarded Army, pp. 236–37.

20 Skocpol, Theda, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992).

21 Further discussion appears in the conclusion to Skocpol, Theda, Social Policy in the United States: Future Possibilities in Historical Perspective (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995).

22 Children's Defense Fund, Wasting America's Future: The Children's Defense Fund Report on the Costs of Child Poverty (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1994); Gingrich, Newt, To Renew America (New York: Harper Collins, 1995).

23 Peterson, Peter G., Facing Up: How to Rescue the Economy from Crushing Debt and Restore the American Dream (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993). On the groups pushing privatization, see Kosterlitz, Julie, “Touching the Rail,” National Journal, 12 23, 1995, pp. 3136–40.

24 Skocpol, , Protecting Soldiers and Mothers, ch. 2.

25 Ibid., ch. 9.

26 Skocpol, , Social Policy in the United States, ch. 4.

27 Pencak, William, For God and Country: The American Legion, 1919–1941 (Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, 1989), p. 82; Jones, Richard Seelye, A History of the American Legion (Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1946), chs. 15 and 27.

28 Dillingham, William Pyrle, Federal Aid to Veterans, 1917–1941 (Gainesville, FL: University of Honda Press, 1952).

29 Skocpol, , Protecting Soldiers and Mothers, discusses early-twentieth-century U.S. elite reactions against open-ended spending on federal social or veterans' benefits.

30 Dillingham, , Federal Aid to Veterans, chs. 1 and 2; and National Industrial Conference Board, The World War Veterans and the Federal Treasury (New York: National Industrial Conference Board, 1932), chs. 1 and 2.

31 National Industrial Conference Board, The World War Veterans and the Federal Treasury, ch. 3.

32 Dillingham, , Federal Aid to Veterans, ch. 13.

33 Quotes are from “Address of President Roosevelt,” Proceedings of the Fifteenth National Convention of the American Legion, Chicago, Illinois, 10 2–5, 1933 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934), pp. 1517.

34 “The President Vetoes the Bonus Bill, May 22, 1935,” in The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, vol. 4 (New York: Random House, 1938), pp. 189, 190, 193.

35 See Roosevelt, 's “Statement on Signing the Bill Reducing the Draft Age,” 11 13, 1942, in The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, vol. 11, compiled by Rosenman, Samuel I. (New York: Russell and Russell, 1950), pp. 470–71.

36 This account draws especially upon Olson, , The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges (supra note 7), ch. 1; and Ross, Davis R. B., Preparing for Ulysses: Politics and Veterans during World War II (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969).

37 Olson, , The G.I. Bill, the Veterans, and the Colleges, ch. 1.

38 For an overview, see Amenta, Edwin and Skocpol, Theda, “Redefining the New Deal: World War II and the Development of Social Provision in the United States,” in The Politics of Social Policy in the United States, ed. Weir, Margaret, Orloff, Ann Shola, and Skocpol, Theda (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), pp. 81122.

39 Ross, , Preparing for Ulysses, ch. 4.

40 The overall pattern is discussed in Amenta, and Skocpol, , “Redefining the New Deal.”

41 For the Legion's work on the G.I. Bill, see Moley, , The American Legion Story, ch. 16; Jones, , A History of the American Legion, pp. 217–20; and Camelon, David, “I Saw the GI Bill Written,” in 3 parts, American Legion Magazine, vol. 47, nos. 3–5 (09, 10, and 11 1949).

42 Ross, , Preparing for Ulysses, pp. 121–22.

43 Ibid., p. 123.

44 Pencak, , For God and Country.

45 Ibid., ch. 10; Jones, , A History of the American Legion, chs. 15–18.

46 For a good overview, see Pencak, William, “Veterans' Movements,” in Encyclopedia of American Political History: Studies of the Principal Movements and Ideas, ed. Greene, Jack P. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1984), vol. 3, pp. 1332–47.

47 Hearings before the Committee on World War Veterans' Legislation, House of Representatives, Seventy-Eighth Congress, Second Session, on H.R. 3917 and S. 1767 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1944), pp. 162–63.

48 Democratic Leadership Council, Citizenship and National Service: A Blueprint for Civic Enterprise (Washington, DC: Democratic Leadership Council, 05 1988).

49 Moskos, Charles C., A Call to Civic Service: National Service for Country and Community (New York: Free Press, 1988), p. 160.

50 As quoted in Waldman, Steven, The Bill: How the Adventures of Clinton's National Service Bill Reveal What Is Corrupt, Comic, Cynical—and Noble—About Washington (New York: Viking, 1995), p. 4.

51 As quoted in “Nunn-McCurdy Plan Ignites National Service Debate,” Congressional Quarterly, 03 25, 1989, p. 645.

52 Other voices today are also calling for investing the Social Security Trust Fund in something more remunerative than low-yield government debt. See, for example, Bosworth, Barry, “Putting Social Security to Work: How to Restore the Balance between Generations,” Brookings Review, vol. 13, no. 4 (Fall 1995), pp. 3639. It would be possible, of course, to combine Bosworth's call for institutionally managed market-investments of Social Security funds with Bluestone's call to devote part of the Trust Fund to investments in income-contingent educational loans. The latter invests in human capital and in future enhanced tax returns, while the former invests in the stock market, both without breaking Social Security into individualist private-investment pools. Together, Bosworth's and Bluestone's ideas are a cogent alternative to current calls, urged on by Wall Street, to “privatize” Social Security, hence destroying it as a source of mildly redistributive social insurance for all of America's elderly.

53 Bluestone, Barry, “Generational Alliance: Social Security as a Bank for Education and Training,” The American Prospect, no. 2 (Summer 1990), p. 29.

54 Waldman, , The Bill (supra note 50).

55 See, for example, Walters, John, “Clinton's AmeriCorps Values: How the President Misunderstands Citizenship,” Policy Review, no. 75 (0102 1996), pp. 4246.

56 For the scope and structure of federal student loan programs in the mid-1980s, see Doyle, Denis P. and Hartle, Terry W., “Washington: Student-Aid Muddle,” The Atlantic, vol. 257, no. 2 (02 1986), pp. 3034.

57 See Moskos, , A Call to Civic Service (supra note 49).

* This essay was written with support from a 1995–96 Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Fellowship from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute.

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