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OUR VIEW: Challenge of inequality remains 50 years after LBJ's War on Poverty

LBJ's 'war on poverty' battled economic injustice but didn't end it

Published: January 8, 2014 4:00 AM

Fifty years today, a new

president thrust into office by tragedy delivered his first State of the Union address and challenged the nation to address the drastic economic inequality that condemned millions of Americans to lives without decent housing, adequate nutrition, education or hope.

Lyndon B. Johnson's broad-ranging initiative came to be known as the War on Poverty, a cornerstone for what he termed the Great Society. His speech, on Jan. 8, 1964, led Congress to pass the Economic Opportunity Act, which established the Office of Economic Opportunity to administer federal funds targeted against poverty.

Johnson's call for direct government intervention aimed at uplifting the lives of lower-income Americans led to the creation of many programs that endure a half-century later, including Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start and food stamps. In Portage County, the War in Poverty led to the establishment of the Community Action Council and the Portage Metropolitan Housing Authority, which have worked diligently for nearly five decades to improve conditions of those in need.

When President Johnson addressed Congress in January 1964, nearly one in five Americans lived in poverty. Parts of Appalachia lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. Hunger and infant mortality posed challenges for many families. Millions lived in substandard housing.

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The War on Poverty, the most far-reaching attempt at social engineering since Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal more than a generation earlier, unquestionably improved the lives of millions of Americans by enlarging the social safety net and providing necessary assistance for many. But Johnson's other war, the debacle in Vietnam that eventually consumed his presidency and turned him out of office, did a great deal to halt the progress made by Great Society programs.

Fifty years later, some would argue that the War in Poverty was a failure. The poverty level today is about 15 percent, millions remain out of work in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008, food banks continue to address local hunger issues and children in poor neighborhoods often receive substandard education. Inequality in economic opportunity persists.

But while there is no question that many Americans continue to find themselves on the short end of the economic spectrum, the dire straits confronted by millions in 1964 have eased. Programs such as Medicare and Medicaid have provided a foundation for medical care; food subsidies and housing assistance have eased hunger and provided decent housing.

Lyndon Johnson's "war" didn't defeat poverty, but it did make a difference in fighting a battle that remains to be fought today. The programs it inspired changed lives, and millions of Americans are better off today because of a president who challenged Congress to improve their living conditions.

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TaggR Jan 9, 2014 11:47 AM

Agreeing with yourself whiner?  You have absolutely no self respect, pride or dignity. Just a deceitful little whiner.

little_r_republican Jan 9, 2014 8:41 AM

point well made:

~~It's been 50 years since President Johnson launched the War on Poverty.  What do we have to show for it?  Unfortunately, not a lot. We've spent upwards of $20 trillion since 1965 on this "war."  We now spend nearly $1 trillion every year to fight poverty.  About 100 million Americans receive some sort of means-tested aid, which means we are spending about $9,000 per recipient in America. All of the spending has amounted to virtually no change in the level of poverty in America, which stands at about 15 percent.  Perhaps liberals are OK with this increase in government dependency but I believe the American people are capable of more. There are a lot of Americans who are suffering right now.  This is not because of rich people, as liberals would have you believe, but because we've lost the foundations for self-sufficiency and replaced them with a misguided belief that government should provide for us.  While government is there for those who absolutely cannot provide for themselves, or those who temporarily fall on hard times, it's dangerous to build a permanent class of Americans who are reliant on government for their way of life." S.Hannity

redleg6 Jan 8, 2014 1:59 PM

Hey, Hey, LBJ, how is that war on poverty working out today?

The results 50 years later, 47 million on food stamps in 2014.

And folks thought the Vietnam war was a Debacle.

little_r_republican Jan 8, 2014 12:36 PM

or...trawl,...stop the fraud and overpayment waste...then plenty of money to continue to give away to buy votes.

trawl Jan 8, 2014 12:28 PM

little wrote: "And Congress is  going to borrow another $6.4 billion...responsonsible?"

It's either borrow OR close loopholes and start taxing corporations that are getting a free ride.


little_r_republican Jan 8, 2014 10:21 AM

~~ "The U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) annual financial report revealed that in 2013 it improperly paid an estimated $7.7 billion in taxpayer funds to Unemployment Insurance (UI) beneficiaries, including $7.3 billion worth of overpayments."  As you can imagine, this waste of money is not an isolated incident but occurs every year to some degree."

And Congress is  going to borrow another $6.4 billion...responsonsible?