Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Gerald Markowitz

Committee Members

Joshua Freeman

Jonathan Rosenberg

Subject Categories

United States History


Social Security, New Deal, Medicare, Great Society, War on Poverty


This dissertation asks why public assistance at the federal level in the United States has become significantly oriented towards the needs of older Americans since the New Deal era. It argues that in effect the United States has developed an old age welfare state – a “senior state,” in other words, which has sought primarily to protect the economic status of older Americans, and that the creation of this “senior state” represents the end-point of a long-term project by social reformers, organized labor, and old age advocacy organizations over the course of the second half of the 20th century to institutionalize federal responsibility for the elderly. Unlike the controversies which surrounded programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), contributory programs such as Social Security and Medicare as well as noncontributory initiatives funded by the federal government to assist older Americans enjoyed far more social and political legitimacy. My research argues that this acceptance of programs to help older Americans was the product of a unique alliance between government officials, organized labor, and civic organizations which ensured that both adequate public funding and social legitimacy would be reserved to protect programs for older Americans.