Suzanne Mettler

mettler.suzanne's picture

Member of SSN Steering Committee; Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions, Department of Government, Cornell University; Fellow of the Century Foundation

214 White Hall
Ithaca, New York 14853
(607) 255-3307

Expertise & Civic Involvements

Mettler’s current research investigates how changes in U.S. social welfare and educational policies have evolved since the 1970s, in the midst of rising economic inequality, and how the changes have influenced American attitudes about government and participation in politics. In particular, she probes the impact of the proliferation of spending programs in the tax code; the changes in federal financial aid policies for college students; the weakening of other social programs; and the implementation of the new health care reform law enacted in 2010.

Key Publications

  • Degrees of Inequality: How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream (Basic Books, 2014).
    Offers an impassioned call to reform a higher education system that has come to exacerbate, rather than mitigate, socioeconomic inequality in America.
  • The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy (University of Chicago Press, 2011).
    Explores the proliferation of social welfare policies invisible to most citizens because they are channeled through the tax code or subsidies to private organizations. Shows the challenges inherent in efforts to reform such policies, many of which primarily advantage vested interests and the affluent Americans; and suggests strategies helping citizens form views about these policies and take action to change them. The book’s introduction was featured in
  • "Eliminating the Market Middle-Man: Redirecting and Expanding Support for College Students" in Reaching for a New Deal: Ambitious Governance, Economic Meltdown, and Polarized Politics in Obama's First Two Years, edited by Theda Skocpol and Lawrence R. Jacobs (Russell Sage Foundation, 2011), 105-138.
    Examines how policymakers in 2009-10 achieved a twenty-year goal of terminating bank-based student lending and replacing it with direct lending, while enhanced Pell Grants and aid to community colleges fell short.
  • "The Transformed Welfare State and the Redistribution of Political Voice" in The Transformation of American Politics: Activist Government and the Rise of Conservatism, edited by Paul Pierson and Theda Skocpol (Princeton University Press, 2007), 191-222.
    Offers a broad overview of changes in U.S. social programs since World War II, and explores the impact on attitudes about government and social spending.
  • "American Political Development from Citizens’ Perspective: Tracking Federal Government’s Presence in Individual Lives over Time" (with Andrew Milstein). Studies in American Political Development 21, no. 1 (2007): 110-30.
    Tracks shifts in federal social policies from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Presents average benefit rates in real terms and in terms of percentages of the U.S. population covered. Demonstrates persistence of programs for American seniors, the atrophy of direct programs for younger Americans, and the expansion of policies channeled through the tax code.
  • Soldiers to Citizens: The G.I. Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation (Oxford University Press, 2005).
    Shows how the generous education and training benefits for veterans of World War II not only enlarged opportunities for socio-economic advancement, but also promoted more active civic engagement among the beneficiaries. Contrasts the “virtuous circle” between generous social provision and vibrant democracy in the post-war era to the more anemic links in recent decades.

Media Contributions

Talks and Briefings

  • "Degrees of Inequality," (with MSNBC's Joy Reid), The Century Foundation, New York, NY, May 2014.
  • "Degrees of Inequality," panel discussion, New American Foundation in collaboration with The Century Foundation, Washington, DC, March 2014.
  • "Who Perceives Government’s Role in Their Lives? How Policy Visibility Influences Awareness of and Attitudes about Social Spending," GAGE Colloquium, Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia, October 2011.