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Ryan LaRochelle

Lecturer, Cohen Institute for Leadership and Public Service, University of Maine

About Ryan

LaRochelle's research focuses on U.S. social policy, poverty and inequality, and American political and policy development. LaRochelle has written about the historical legacy of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society (particularly the Community Action Program), the erosion of the social safety net since the 1980s, and the rise of block-granting as a tool of social policy retrenchment.

Overarching themes in LaRochelle's research and writing explore how design elements of particular social policies affect their developmental trajectories. In particular, LaRochelle explores how policies may contain certain features or launch political processes that lead to their gradual erosion or decay over time.

LaRochelle is currently working on two ongoing research projects. The first analyzes backlash to the Great Society and the rise of conservatism. The other examines how block-granting social programs reduce their effectiveness by eroding program funding, stunting the prospects for positive policy feedback, and promoting cross-state inequalities, particularly along class and racial lines. 

In the News

"Donald Trump’s Assault on the Social Safety Net," Ryan LaRochelle (with Luisa S. Deprez), Washington Monthly, February 7, 2020.
"Scholars Strategy Network: Getting by with Less and Less," Ryan LaRochelle, Central Maine, January 21, 2020.
"Getting By With Less and Less," Suzanne Mettler (with Ryan LaRochelle), Central Maine Today Media , January 21, 2020.
"The Consequences of a Shredded Social Safety Net," Ryan LaRochelle, Bangor Daily News, February 12, 2019.


"Block Granting and the Retrenchment of the American Welfare State," American Political Science Association, July 1, 2018.

Examines the rise of block-granting as a tool of social policy retrenchment since the 1980s. Shows how several aspects of block grants' designs leave them vulnerable to deferred policy maintenance, which leads to gradual erosion. Argues that block grant design limits the potential for self-reinforcing or positive feedbacks, thus making these programs vulnerable to further retrenchment. Shows how the decentralized nature of block grants works to increase inequality across the states.

"Reassessing the History of the Community Action Program, 1963-1967" Journal of Policy History 31, no. 1 (January 2019): 126-164.

Reassessed the early history of the Community Action Program. Draws on an original dataset of 98 community action agencies. Argues that the program was a bold experiment in administrative reform that launched a range of diverse anti-poverty initiatives that were tailored to local circumstance and community needs.