Why the "War on Poverty" Isn't Over

tags: LBJ, War on Poverty



Stephanie Coontz is director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families and teaches history at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Her most recent book is "A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s." She is also the author of "The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap."

(CNN) -- In a State of the Union address 50 years ago this month, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared "unconditional war on poverty." Over the next year and a half, anti-poverty warriors developed new health insurance programs for the elderly and the poor, increased Social Security benefits and introduced food stamps and nutritional supplements for low-income pregnant women and infants. They established Head Start programs for young children, Upward Bound and Job Corps programs for teenagers, and work-study opportunities for college students.

It is often forgotten that this was a bipartisan campaign. A Republican president, Richard Nixon, and legislators from both sides of the aisle expanded the War on Poverty in the early 1970s. Nixon extended the reach of the food stamp program, added an automatic cost-of-living increase to Social Security and instituted the Supplemental Security Income system to benefit disabled adults and children. He even proposed a guaranteed national income though that died in the Senate after passing in the House.

The truth is that the war on poverty produced some stunning successes, many of which are still felt today. And it likely could have produced more if politicians hadn't abandoned it in the 1980s, at the very moment that America's working families were facing heightened assaults on their living standards.

In 1963, despite more than 15 years of prior economic expansion, the child poverty rate was almost 25%. By the early 1970s it had been lowered to 15%. Between 1967 and 1975, poverty among elders was cut in half....



comments powered by Disqus