"Evaluating the Changing Definition of a Policy Issue in Congress: Crime Against the
Elderly,"in Harrell Rodgers (ed.) Public Policy and Social Institutions. New York: JAI
Press, 1984, 287-332.
There is a growing body of research in political science and in mass communications on
agenda-setting–that is, on the question of how social conditions come to be defined as social
problems and political issues. Much political science research examines how particular
problems, in the form of specific legislative proposals, are placed on the formal political
agenda and then are processed further into the legislative arena. Mss communication
research examines how the mass media influence the salience of issues on the public and the
governmental policy agendas. Less attention has been paid to how social conditions are
perceived and framed as social problems in the first place. This chapter suggests that the
framing of political issues is not a cut-and-dried process. Events in the world do not clearly fall
into slots with a problem label, and problems do not always have clear policy implications.
Rather, complex and ill-understood conditions can be defined as a problem in various ways
and emerge as a political issues taking on any of a variety of formulations. As it then
competes for a place on the policy agenda, this issue can form and re-form itself yet further,
reflecting the fact that it was not solely molded by a clear mandate concerning the nature of
Testimony before joint hearings of the House Committee on Science and the House
Select Committee on Aging, on "Fear of Crime Among the Elderly." Washington, DC,
February 1, 1978.
An examination of existing evidence regarding the fear of crime in America seems to indicate
clearly that the elderly bear the heaviest psychological costs of crime. Today, I would first like
to review briefly what we know about the magnitude of the problem. This will entail a
comparison of levels of fear among the elderly and other age groups, an analysis of what
special kinds of crime appear to be most feared by aged Americans, and an examination of
high-fear subgroups within the oldest segment of the population. I would then like to address
the question of why the elderly seem to be so fearful of crime. While the issue is complex, I
think a simple summary answer can be found: the aged fear crime because they have fewer
resources for coping with victimization and its consequences. Finally, I will address briefly the
question of what is to be done. The evidence on "what works" is skimpy, and I can report
reliably only on what is being done rather than the effectiveness of those programs. However,
even that information may be suggestive, for it indicates that much currently is not being
done to help the elderly cope with victimization and its aftermath.