War on Poverty

War on Poverty

War on

A far-reaching program of federal legislation developed in the mid-1960s by the Lyndon B. Johnson administration to reduce poverty. The program expanded educational opportunities to the poor on a scale never before seen in the United States, opening up preschool education to millions of economically and educationally and expanding opportunities for vocational education and higher education to millions of poor adolescents and adults.

Johnson declared an “” in his State of the Union address to Congress on January 8, 1964, “not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.” Planning for the war had actually started two years earlier, when President John F. Kennedy had asked his Council of Economic Advisors to obtain data on the “poverty problem.” At the time, The Other America: Poverty in the United States, a book by Michael Harrington, had shocked the nation by contradicting the popular notion of the United States as an “affluent society.” It presented indisputable evidence that between 40 million and 50 million people—about 25% of American society—lived in poverty. After Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson picked up the banner of the antipoverty movement as his own and spurred the Council of Economic Advisors to accelerate its studies and recommend legislation. The first result was the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, followed a year later by the ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION ACT and the HIGHER EDUCATION ACT. The Economic Opportunity Act created the Job Corps, UPWARD BOUND, the NATIONAL YOUTH CORPS and VISTA, the last a domestic equivalent to the PEACE CORPS and the other programs designed to provide job training and work for unemployed, socioeconomically deprived adolescents. The act created myriad education and job-training programs for adults and WORKSTUDY programs that would allow college students from low-income families to earn Money from on-campus jobs. Beyond these efforts, the Economic Opportunity Act also created community-action programs, the most far-reaching of which was HEAD START, which provided preschool education to millions of children in low-income areas across the United States. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, inter alia, provided remedial and other special education to socioeconomically deprived youngsters, while the Higher Education Act created the to improve the quality of teaching in schools in economically deprived areas.

Although the War on Poverty produced many permanent, far-reaching changes in American education, it had virtually no success in reducing poverty. A decade later, the program’s administrative bureaucracy, the Office of Economic Opportunity, was disbanded and many of its programs abandoned. Those that survived were placed under the jurisdiction of other departments. Abandonment of the formal War on Poverty, however, did not mean an end to government efforts at both the federal and state levels to address the problem of endemic poverty in the richest nation on earth, and, by 2000, an unprecedented economic boom finally reduced poverty rates to 11.3% (about 31.6 million people), from more than 15% in 1993 and more than 22% at the beginning of the War on Poverty. The year 2000, however, also saw a surge in the number of poor immigrants entering the country, legally and illegally, with a consequent increase in year-to-year poverty rates—from 11.3% in 2000 to 11.7% in 2001 and 12.1% in 2002.

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