Theses Doctoral

From at-risk to disconnected: Federal youth policy from 1973 to 2008

Bork, Rachel

Traditionally youth policy has been studied from a psycho-social perspective that treats the concept of youth as a natural developmental stage. This dissertation adopts a political perspective and analyzes how political actors shape the social construction of youth. It documents the extent to which five sub-issues of youth policy--education, criminal justice, public health, social services, and workforce development--were present on the congressional agenda from 1973-2008. This research question is addressed through an analysis of congressional hearing data from a researcher-designed database of all congressional hearings held on youth-related issues during this 35 year-period (n = 986). This descriptive analysis provides a longitudinal picture of what Congress chose to consider with regard to youth issues. The dissertation then empirically probes possible explanations as to why the five sub-issues of youth policy were more or less prevalent on the congressional agenda. Drawing from existing literature, this research posits two competing theories that may explain congressional attention to youth issues over time. The external events hypothesis argues that youth issues are present on the agenda as a result of external events catalyzing an increase in attention to youth issues, whereas the internal actors hypothesis asserts that internal actors such as congressional leaders and interest groups are responsible for promoting youth issues. These competing explanations are then tested with a content analysis of the hearings, supplemented with data from a small number of elite interviews. Results suggest that both hypotheses are partially correct, but that the first theory better explains the peaks in the number of hearings, signifying the role external conditions played in motivating Congress to hold more youth hearings.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Politics and Education
Thesis Advisors
Henig, Jeffrey
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 25, 2013