Legislative Guide to Researching Public Policy Related to Socioeconomic Status

Compiled by Jessica L. Johnson

This guide is intended to provide psychology instructors with resources and ideas on integrating public policy related to socioeconomic status into the psychology curriculum. Included is a brief guide to the understanding the legislative process, legislative codes, and how to search for polices. In addition, we have compiled a brief list of legislation related to socioeconomic status and/or economic assistance within the past 10 years.

  • Ways to Integrate Public Policy related to SES into the Psychology Curriculum
  • The Legislative Process
    • Related websites
    • Terminology of legislation
  • How do I find legislation related to my topic?
  • How do I find information about a specific policy?
Ways to Integrate Public Policy Related to SES into the Psychology Curriculum
  • Have individual students or groups track policies related to a specific topic throughout the semester
  • Discuss how specific policies related to a topic in psychology may impact people from all socioeconomic status levels
  • Assign research articles related to policies that have an impact on both psychology and SES
  • Require students to find legislation on a specific psychology topic
  • Have students interview others from different socioeconomic status (SES) levels about how a specific bill or law has impacted their life
  • Have students survey members of different socioeconomic levels on knowledge of the legislative process or recent bills passed regarding issues in psychology

The Legislative Process

Recommended Websites

The following are recommended websites for learning about the legislative process and government as well.

  • Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids

  • The APA Congressional Directory of the 109th Congress: 2005-2006 includes a listing for each member of Congress, key White House staff, the Cabinet, Supreme Court, selected federal agencies and state governors. The directory also provides information about communicating with Congress and how a bill becomes a law.

  • Advancing Psychology: A Psychologist's Guide to Federal Policymaking offers a brief review of the federal legislative process. There are three versions of the Guide, each offering examples relevant to science, education or public interest advocacy. The Guide explains how to develop and maintain contact with congressional decision makers in a way that does not require knowledge of all the subtleties of the public policy process. Abridged versions of the guides are available on PPO's website.

Terminology of Legislation

All bills and laws are assigned codes during each level of the passage process. A bill that has passed into law more than likely will have multiple codes and modifications in content.

HR = House of Representatives = A bill that was introduced in the House.

S = Senate = A bill that was introduced in the Senate.

PL = Public Law = A bill that was passed through both houses and signed by the President becomes public law.

STAT = Statutes = Every law enacted by Congress is published in the Statutes at Large in order of the date of passage. 

USC = US Code= Laws from the Statutes at Large are codified in the US Code, arranged by topic.

How Do I Find Policies Related to My Topic?

Reference Books

Reference books are the best places to search for government policies related to your topic. These sources often provide the bill code in the text or the reference section. Library catalogs offer options to limit your search to materials in the reference section. The following are examples of reference books related to socioeconomic status:

Mink, G. & O'Conner, A., Eds. (2004). Poverty in the United States: An encyclopedia of history, politics, and policy. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO.

Glasmeier, A.K. (2006). An atlas of poverty in America: One nation, pulling apart, 1960-2003. New York: Routledge.

Academic Databases

Some databases such as ERIC offer options to limit your search government documents and legislation. To search within the ERIC database for public policy document:

  1. Click on “Journal or Document Limit”
  2. Under “Publication Type”, select the “Legal/Legislative/Regulatory Materials”.

Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) provides access to journal articles, books, research syntheses, conference papers and policy papers from 1966 to present.


Government web pages can offer lots of useful information about bills. These pages usually end with .gov, .us or .mil.

APA Public Policy Division: Public Interest Policy

APA Public Policy Division: Education Policy

How Do I Find Information About a Specific Policy?

Bills may be difficult to understand for those who are not familiar with government documents. Summaries, which provide descriptions of the bill, are most helpful in telling you what the bill is about.

Lexis Nexis Congressional

Lexis Nexis Congressional is a comprehensive online resource of Congressional hearings, legislation, and history.It can be used to access current topics of Congress, find sources of government statistics, trace a law's legislative history, gauge Congressional attitudes toward current topics, and find out how members of Congress voted on legislation.


  1. Click on Legislative Histories, Bills & Laws.

  2. Enter your topic in “Keyword Search” tab.


    Enter Law or Bill # (Ex: PL 107-16) in the “Get a Document” tab

Government Periodicals Index

Lexis Nexis Government Periodicals Index provides access to federal government magazines and newsletters.

Congressional Quarterly (CQ) Library

The CQ Electronic Library (CQEL) is a resource for research in American government, politics, history, public policy, and current affairs. It includes the online version of CQ Researcher, and four subject-specific reference databases: CQ Congress Collection, CQ Supreme Court Collection, CQ Public Affairs Collection, and CQ Voting and Elections Collection. It also includes a reference resource (CQ Encyclopedia of American Government), a comprehensive directory of the institutions and people of American government (CQ Insider) and a congressional newsletter CQ Weekly.

PAIS International

The PAIS International database contains references to more than 553,300 journal articles, books, government documents, statistical directories, research reports, conference reports and publications of international agencies. PAIS International includes publications from over 120 countries throughout the world. In addition to English, some of the indexed materials are published in French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.