22. “The Legacy of Johnson’s War on Poverty”


Abstract: The 1960s was a decade dedicated to experimentation within the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Americans witnessed many significant changes and advancements in those ten short years, including the first man on the moon, a war in Vietnam, and successes in the automobile industry. Probably the most important of these changes was the War on Poverty, introduced by John Fitzgerald Kennedy and continued by Lyndon Baines Johnson and subsequent administrations. This paper examines the creation of a new class of reliance on government handouts, as well as a misallocation of resources.

Poverty was a well-known tragedy in third world countries. It was hard to believe that the United States, a leading nation of the world, was hit just as badly as those other countries. In fact, many Americans denied the problem for fear of the reaction from the rest of the world. In reality, though, many American families were struggling every day to provide food, shelter, and education for their children. Once this devastating misfortune was acknowledged, Kennedy dedicated his 1960 campaign to the New Frontier, which would encourage Americans to regain faith in their country by implementing programs to eradicate poverty. To succeed, Kennedy knew that the key to recovery centered on education. Improved education would provide the youth with better job opportunities, which would increase productivity, and therefore decrease poverty. Unfortunately, Kennedy was unable to follow through with his plans. After he was assassinated, Johnson took office ready to expand on Kennedy’s drafted plan. He wanted to look at poverty in a more positive way, as an opportunity to effectively change society. Continuing with Kennedy’s ideas, Johnson felt this change would best be accomplished through publics works programs. In his State of the Union Address, Johnson declared a “war on poverty” in which he would provide Americans with the tools needed to escape the world of poverty and make a living for themselves.

Under the provision of the Office of Economic Opportunity, created specifically to abolish poverty, programs were created to begin the process of recovery. Community action programs, the Jobs Corps, and Head Start are just three programs put into action to improve the status of the poor. Job training and education were the main functions of these programs, but the effectiveness is heavily debated amongst historians.

Though many claim that the War on Poverty was indeed successful, evidence shows otherwise. In viewing statistics from Congressional Records and other government documents, it is clear that the short-term effects were not worth the long-term consequences, and had the problem of poverty been left to the natural market, the issue would have been solved much more sufficiently.