lbj's war on poverty -- 7/08/19

Today's selection -- from Land of Promise by Michael Lind. Poverty still looms large in America. But the numbers on Lyndon Baines Johnson's still-controversial "War on Poverty" show that some improvement did occur:

"Ronald Reagan quipped that Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty and poverty won. Conservatives succeeded in portraying the War on Poverty as a dismal failure. But the evidence indicates otherwise. Between the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush, black poverty declined from a little more than 40 percent to 22 to 24 percent. More than half of that reduction came between 1966 and 1969 alone, when black poverty plummeted from 40.9 percent to 30.9 percent. Poverty among non-Hispanic whites dropped from 14.7 percent in 1962 to 6.1 percent in 2006. The overall poverty rate would have been even lower in the early twenty-first century if not for the mass immigration that followed the 1965 immigration reforms. Because US immigration was dominated by poor people from Mexico and Latin America, Latinos accounted for all the growth in poverty after 1990.

President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, leave the home of Tom Fletcher, a father of eight who had been out of work for nearly two years. The president announced his War on Poverty from the Fletcher porch in 1964.

"In 1978, the economist Martin Anderson, who became a leading ad­viser in the Reagan administration, conceded that, despite problems with fraud and inefficiency, welfare programs had eliminated most poverty in the United States: 'The "dismal failure" of welfare is a myth .... But if we step back and judge the vast array of welfare programs, on which we spend billions of dollars every year, by two basic criteria -- the complete­ness of coverage for those who really need help, and the adequacy of help they do receive -- the picture changes dramatically. Judged by these stan­dards our welfare system has been a brilliant success. The war on poverty is over for all practical purposes.'

"Like his mentor Roosevelt, LBJ preferred work to welfare and sought to combat poverty by means of training programs and jobs programs like the Job Corps and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). Describing the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which promoted jobs and training for the poor, Johnson said: 'This is not in any sense a cynical proposal to exploit the poor with a promise of a handout or a dole. We know -- we learned long ago -- that answer is no answer .... We are not content to accept the endless growth of relief rolls or welfare rolls.' When the bill was being drafted, Johnson ordered one aide, Lester Thurow, to remove any cash-support pro­grams and told another aide, Bill Moyers, 'You tell [Sargent] Shriver, no doles.' "



Michael Lind


Land of Promise




Copyright 2012 Michael Lind


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