Published in Social Problems, Volume 39, Issue 2, May 1, 1992, pages 139-154.
This paper examines the level of protest activity by the unemployed in the United States between 1890 and 1940 as a test of the value of a political process model for explaining social movement activity. Data on protest events and elite attitudes towards the unemployed were collected from newspaper articles. Voting behavior was used as an indicator of contested elections and unemployment levels were reflected by available indicators. Con- sistent with previous research on lower- and working-class mobilization, a change in the political environment was key to the extensive protest by the unemployed in the 1930s. Toward the end of the 1920s, and especially in the early 1930s, elites were no longer simply making public statements about the problem of unemployment, but were also discussing the need for aid programs. In the context of this new political environment, elections were once again contested in the 1930s, and extensive protest began in 1930, even before unemployment hit its high point in 1933. Thus, it was not simply deprivation, but the changed political environment which legitimized the issue of unemployment and created prospects for reform, which in turn helped produce the massive protest of the 1930s.
Social and Behavioral Sciences
The definitive version is available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/3097034.