LBJ: Before the War on Poverty

LBJ spent time after college teaching impoverished Mexican-American immigrants on the border of Texas and Mexico, an experience that shaped his personality and presidential ambitions.

Everything you need to know about the war on poverty

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson declared "unconditional war" on poverty. Depending on your ideological priors, the ensuing effort was either "a catastrophe" (Heritage's Robert Rector) or "lived up to our best hopes as a people who value the dignity and potential of every human being" (the White House's news release on the anniversary). Luckily, we have actual data on these matters which clarify what exactly happened after Johnson's declaration, and the role government programs played. Here's what you need to know.

1. What was the war on poverty?

The term "war on poverty" generally refers to a set of initiatives proposed by Johnson's administration, passed by Congress, and implemented by his Cabinet agencies. As Johnson put it in his 1964 State of the Union address announcing the effort, "Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it."

2. What programs did it include?

The effort centered around four pieces of legislation:

• The Social Security Amendments of 1965, which created Medicare and Medicaid and also expanded Social Security benefits for retirees, widows, the disabled and college-aged students, financed by an increase in the payroll tax cap and rates.

• The Food Stamp Act of 1964, which made the food stamps program, then only a pilot, permanent.

• The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which established the Job Corps, the VISTA program, the federal work-study program and a number of other initiatives. It also established the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the arm of the White House responsible for implementing the war on poverty and which created the Head Start program in the process.

• The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, signed into law in 1965, which established the Title I program subsidizing school districts with a large share of impoverished students, among other provisions. ESEA has since been reauthorized, most recently in the No Child Left Behind Act.

3. Why did it start when it did?

Besides Johnson's personal interest in the issue, a number of factors made 1964-65 the ideal time for the war on poverty to start. The 1962 publication of Michael Harrington's "The Other America," an expose which demonstrated that poverty in America was far more prevalent than commonly assumed, focused public debate on the issue, as did Dwight MacDonald's 13,000-word review essay on the book in The New Yorker. Many historians, such as Harrington biographer Maurice Isserman, credit Harrington and the book (which John F. Kennedy purportedly read while in office, along with the MacDonald review) with spurring Kennedy and then Johnson to formulate an anti-poverty agenda, on which Harrington (despite being a member of the Socialist Party) consulted alongside Daniel Patrick Moynihan and OEO chief Sargent Shriver.

The civil rights movement also deserves considerable credit for forcing action. Groups like the NAACP and the Urban League were prominent allies of the Johnson administration in its push for the Economic Opportunity Act and other legislation on the topic. Another factor is the fact that we just didn't have good data on poverty until shortly before the war on it began our numbers only go back to 1959.

4. How long did it last?

Many of the war on poverty's programs — like Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, Head Start, Job Corps, VISTA and Title I — are still in place today. The Nixon administration largely dismantled the OEO, distributing its functions to a variety of other federal agencies, and eventually the office was renamed in 1975 and then shuttered for good in 1981.

5. Did it reduce poverty, actually?

It did. A recent study from economists at Columbia broke down changes in poverty before and after the government gets involved in the form of taxes and transfers, and found that, when you take government intervention into account, poverty is down considerably from 1967 to 2012, from 26 percent to 16 percent:

While that doesn't allow us to see how poverty changed between the start of the war in 1964 and the start of the data in 1967, the most noticeable trend here is that the gap between before-government and after-government poverty just keeps growing. In fact, without government programs, poverty would have actually increased over the period in question. Government action is literally the only reason we have less poverty in 2012 than we did in 1967.

What's more, we can directly attribute this to programs created or expanded during the war on poverty. In 2012, food stamps (since renamed Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) alone kept 4 million people out of poverty:

And is even more important in fighting extreme poverty (that is, people living under $2 a day):

In fairness, SNAP isn't the biggest anti-poverty program on the books. That would be Social Security, also expanded by the war on poverty. The Earned Income Tax Credit, which came a few decades after, and other refundable credits are No. 2:

The impact of non-transfer programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Job Corps on poverty is harder to measure, but what indications there are are promising. Amy Finkelstein and Robin McKnight have found that Medicare significantly reduced out-of-pocket medical expenditures for seniors, which increased their real incomes. The Oregon Medicaid Study found that the program significantly reduces financial hardship for its beneficiaries, who, under Oregon's eligibility rules at the time, all fell below the poverty line. A randomized evaluation of the Job Corps found that it caused improvements on a variety of outcomes, most notably a 12 percent increase in earnings of participants but also reductions in rates of incarceration, arrest, and conviction.

Title I, on the other hand, is generally agreed to cause more equitable school funding allocations, but the evidence on its effects on student achievement is less promising, with many evaluations finding no effect. A randomized evaluation of Head Start found that its effects faded out quickly, and many experts, notably James Heckman, are quite skeptical of the program's benefits. That said, other researchers, like Harvard's David Deming, have more positive evaluations.

The War on Poverty: Then and Now

Endnotes and citations are available in the PDF and Scribd versions.

This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. … It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.

— President Lyndon B. Johnson, January 8, 1964

Fifty years have passed since President Johnson first declared a War on Poverty in his 1964 State of the Union address. While many of the programs that emerged from this national commitment are now taken for granted, the nation would be unrecognizable to most Americans if they had never been enacted.

Soon after President Johnson declared his commitment to end poverty, Congress passed the bipartisan Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and critical civil rights legislation, which created the legislative framework to expand economic opportunity through anti-poverty, health, education, and employment policies. Throughout the Johnson and Nixon administrations, the War on Poverty—and the Great Society more broadly—laid the foundation for our modern-day safety net, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps Medicare Medicaid Head Start and expanded Social Security.

These and other programs with roots in the War on Poverty have kept millions of families out of poverty, made college education more accessible, and put the American Dream within reach for those living on society’s margins. Our national poverty rate fell 42 percent during the War on Poverty, from 1964 to 1973. And that trend continues today: The poverty rate fell from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2012 when safety net programs are taken into account.

As poverty persists across the country, however, critics of our safety net programs might say we lost the fight. But to label the War on Poverty a failure is to say that the creation of Medicare and Head Start, enactment of civil rights legislation, and investments in education that have enabled millions of students to go to college are a failure. In fact, without the safety net, much of which has its roots in the War on Poverty, poverty rates today would be nearly double what they currently are.

The War on Poverty has not failed us, but our economy has.

Our economy and social fabric have changed significantly in the past 50 years. Demographic shifts, rising income inequality, and insufficient access to jobs and education pose new policy challenges. Too often, our public policies have not met the needs posed by these trends.

It is time for a renewed national commitment to reduce poverty. Half in Ten, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the Coalition on Human Needs, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, believes we must set and work toward a national goal of cutting poverty in half in 10 years. To get there, we need an investment agenda that addresses the needs of 21st-century America and the demands of a global economy. It is time to raise the minimum wage, close the gender pay gap, and create better-quality jobs. It is time to invest in work and income supports that cut poverty and expand economic opportunity, and learn from local initiatives that work at the cutting edge of poverty reduction.

By creating a strong economy where gains are more equitably shared and committing to programs and policies that work, we can cut poverty in half in the next 10 years and usher in a new era of shared economic prosperity.

Defining poverty

When discussing poverty in the United States, policymakers often refer to two major measurements:

Federal poverty level

The official poverty definition uses income thresholds that vary by family size and composition to determine who is in poverty. If a family’s total income is less than the applicable threshold, then that family and every individual in it is considered to be in poverty. The measure is intended for use as a yardstick, not a complete description of what people and families need to live. The official poverty definition uses income before taxes and does not include capital gains or noncash benefits such as public housing, Medicaid, and SNAP benefits. The poverty line was originally equal to nearly 50 percent of median income in the 1960s. Because it has only been adjusted for inflation and not for increases in living standards, the poverty line has fallen to just under 30 percent of median income as of 2010.

Supplemental poverty measure

The supplemental poverty measure is a more comprehensive measure of poverty that incorporates additional items such as tax payments and work expenses in its family income estimates. It also provides crucial information on the effectiveness of work and income supports in lifting families above the poverty line. Thresholds used in the measure include data on basic necessities—food, shelter, clothing, and utilities—and are adjusted for geographic differences in the cost of housing. This measure serves as an additional indicator of economic well-being and provides a deeper understanding of economic conditions and policy effects.

How are they different?

One major difference between these two measures is that the federal poverty level does not take into account the impact of anti-poverty policies. Families who benefit from tax measures such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, or income supports such as SNAP are seen as no better off than families who are not enrolled in these programs. This can create the false impression that poverty is intractable and will persist no matter what government does. According to a recent Columbia University study that used the supplemental poverty measure, our safety net reduced the number of Americans living in poverty from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2012. Without these programs, the study estimates that more Americans—29 percent—would be in poverty today. It is necessary to take into account the impact that these critical programs have on individuals and families in order to establish whether or not our anti-poverty policies are working.

Melissa Boteach is the Director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress and the Director of the Half in Ten Education Fund. Erik Stegman is the Manager of the Half in Ten Education Fund. Sarah Baron is a Special Assistant with the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. Tracey Ross is a Senior Policy Analyst with the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. Katie Wright is a Policy Analyst with the Half in Ten Education Fund.

Was LBJ's war on poverty in the 60s a success?

I'm not sure that it was. However, this AP story seems to be saying that it was.

The story is on growing poverty in the US and says the bad economy is
"erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s". I'm not at all sure those
gains took place.

Mike McClure


First we need some data to really see what happened over the last fifty or so years.

What it shows it that the poverty rate plummets in the sixties, levels off through the seventies, rises rapidly in the late seventies/early eighties, and then rises rapidly again in the late eighties/early nineties. It falls throughout the nineties, and then slowly rises throughout the last decade.

What this seems to indicate is that federal policy had little effect on the poverty rate, for good and bad. It plummets in sixties, with the trend starting before the Great Society programs, due to the booming economy. It levels off in the seventies due to stagflation, which, whatever you think were the causes, occurred in many different countries. The severe recession in the early eighties causes the poverty rate to rise again, as does the the latter recession (the fact that the poverty rate seems to rise before the recession actually starts may indicate flaws in how economists measure recessions). And the nineties boom then correlates with a fall in poverty. The relatively stagnant economic growth of the last decade has meant a steadily rising poverty rate. It's that simple--when the economy booms, the poverty rate falls, when it stagnates, the poverty rate rises.

Mike McClure


There are three decades where the poverty rate ended up lower than the previous decade: the 60s, 70s, and 90s.

There are two decades where it ended up higher than the previous decade: the 80s and 00s. Overall, during these two decades the correlation between economic growth and a falling poverty rate was much weaker than in the other decades. It should be noted that the eighties boom was as long as the 60s boom and nearly as long as the 90s boom. The 60s and the 90s booms correlate the strongest with falling poverty, whereas it fell at a relatively weak rate during the 80s boom and not at all during the 00s boom. In that sense I may be wrong in my previous assertion that policies don't matter for good or ill.

So perhaps we should look less at the policies of Lyndon Johnson and more at the policies in subsequent decades.

I should also add:
Number of people under the poverty line, in millions
1959: 39.5
1964: 36.1
1969: 24.1
1974: 23.4
1979: 26.1
1984: 33.7
1989: 31.5
1994: 38.1
1999: 32.8
2004: 37
2009: 43.6
Table 2

The greatest decline in poverty byfar was from 1964-1969, the core years of the Great Society. If also turns out that welfare reform doesn't work if there are no jobs.


Head Start and Job Corps are programs that continue to help the poor today, in great numbers.

Ask the elderly, regardless of political party, how the War on Poverty helped them. Medicare is a very popular program and the support it gives the elderly is invaluable.

The same goes for Medicaid.

Viet Nam cut necessary spending for the War on Poverty and consequently some of it was a failure.

LBJ basically tried to write a blank check for these programs in the beginning. This was a period of rapid legislation. LBJ felt that the popularity of liberalism would fall, mostly because of the South, and that he had to get as much done as he possibly could. While he still had the political capital.

This combined with underfunding greatly effected the success of the War on Poverty.

The War On Poverty was a hyperbolic phrase that LBJ used. It's hard to quantify a metaphor. If you went through Head Start, had food stamps, Medicaid or Medicare, or have gone through the Job Corps it's difficult to say that it was a "failure".

If you think it was a failure or a success you are probably blinded by ideology and will never see the light. The War on Poverty should be a broad program that we look back at. What worked? What aspects of the Office of Economic Opportunity worked and what didn't?

For me, The War on Poverty shows us where the federal government can fail and where it can succeed. We have to know the difference between these two. We need to realize the limits of the federal government while at the same continue programs that have been effective.

We need to talk to people. Not get graphs from Wikipedia.

Cat Daddy

I must admit, I'm impressed with spellbanisher. He must work a lot with
all those graphs and stats, because he always has one to post as a response
to my question.

I think we should keep in mind, that the Viet Nam War was not supposed to hurt the War on Poverty, because we could have both guns and butter, IIRC that is.

I was just a wee little one back then. But, I think that was LBJ's thinking. I
suppose there is just no truth in the claim all those programs were designed
to create a dependency class, that would vote for a politician that would promise to increase the dole even more.

I think that at least where I'm from, the state of Michigan, there is a
dependency class, that generation after generation is on welfare. I have noticed in other states I have lived in, like the People's Republic of California,
there are a lot of people that were not born in the US, but yet get on the dole.

Social Workers have figured out how to get then on the dole. I now live
in Florida, and FL is a lot tougher about stuff like that. You must have all
your documents to get a drivers licence of state ID. That's needed to get
welfare benefits.



Welfare Myths and Facts

Myth: Poverty Results From a Lack of Responsibility
Fact: Poverty Results From Low Wages
Welfare programs have been our country's response to poverty, and everyone agrees that those programs have not solved the problem. Jared Bernstein (1996) of the Economic Policy Institute identifies wage decline as the crucial economic factor that has had the largest impact on poverty rates in the 1980s and 1990s. While hourly rates of pay have fallen for the majority of the workforce since the late 1970s, by far the largest losses have been for the lowest paid workers. According to Bernstein (1996), between 1979 and 1989, the male worker, for example, at the 10th percentile (meaning 90 percent of the male workforce earns more) saw his hourly wage decline 13 percent, and since 1989 he lost another 6 percent. For women workers at the 10th percentile, the decline over the 1980s was 18 percent. The low-wage female worker gained slightly since 1989, but by 1995, her hourly wage rate was $4.84, down from $5.82 in 1979 (all dollars are in 1995 inflation-adjusted terms).

Myth: A Huge Chunk of My Tax Dollars Supports Welfare Recipients
Fact: Welfare Costs 1 Percent of the Federal Budget
Widespread misperception about the extent of welfare exacerbate the problems of poverty. The actual cost of welfare programs-about 1 percent of the federal budget and 2 percent of state budgets (McLaughlin, 1997)-is proportionally less than generally believed. During the 104th Congress, more than 93 percent of the budget reductions in welfare entitlements came from programs for low-income people (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 1996). Ironically, middle-class and wealthy Americans also receive "welfare" in the form of tax deductions for home mortgages, corporate and farm subsidies, capital gains tax limits, Social Security, Medicare, and a multitude of other tax benefits. Yet these types of assistance carry no stigma and are rarely considered "welfare" (Goodgame, 1993). Anti-welfare sentiment appears to be related to attitudes about class and widely shared and socially sanctioned stereotypes about the poor. Racism also fuels negative attitudes toward welfare programs (Quadagno, 1994).

Myth: People on Welfare Become Permanently Dependent on the Support
Fact: Movement off Welfare Rolls Is Frequent
A prevalent welfare myth is that women who received AFDC became permanently dependent on public assistance. Analyses indicate that 56 percent of AFDC support ended within 12 months, 70 percent within 24 months, and almost 85 percent within 4 years (Staff of House Committee on Ways and Means, 1996). These exit rates clearly contradict the widespread myth that AFDC recipients wanted to remain on public assistance or that welfare dependency was permanent. Unfortunately, return rates were also high, with 45 percent of ex-recipients returning to AFDC within 1 year. Persons who were likely to use AFDC longer than the average time had less than 12 years of education, no recent work experience, were never married, had a child below age 3 or had three or more children, were Latina or African American, and were under age 24 (Staff of House Committee on Ways and Means, 1996). These risk factors illustrate the importance of structural barriers, such as inadequate child care, racism, and lack of education.

Myth: Most Welfare Recipients Are African American Women
Fact: Most Welfare Recipients Are Children&#8211Most Women on Welfare Are White
Children, not women, are the largest group of people receiving public assistance. Less than 5 million of the 14 million public assistance recipients are adults, and 90 percent of those adults are women (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1995). The majority of the recipients are White (38 percent), followed by 37 percent African Americans, and 25 percent other minority groups (Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans) (McLaughlin, 1997). However, African Americans are disproportionately represented on public assistance because they are only 12 percent of the population (O'Hare, Pollard, Mann, & Kent, 1991).

Myth: Welfare Encourages Out-of-Wedlock Births and Large Families
Fact: The Average Welfare Family Is No Bigger Than the Average Nonwelfare Family
The belief that single women are promiscuous and have large families to receive increased benefits has no basis in extant research, and single-parent families are not only a phenomenon of the poor (McFate, 1995). In fact, the average family size of welfare recipients has decreased from four in 1969 to 2.8 in 1994 (Staff of House Committee on Ways and Means, 1996). In 1994, 43 percent of welfare families consisted of one child, and 30 percent consisted of two children. Thus, the average welfare family is no larger than the average nonrecipient's family, and despite considerable public concern that welfare encourages out-of-wedlock births, a growing body of empirical evidence indicates that welfare benefits are not a significant incentive for childbearing (Wilcox, Robbennolt, O'Keeffe, & Pynchon, 1997).

Myth: Welfare Families Use Their Benefits to Fund Extravagance

Fact: Welfare Families Live Far Below the Poverty Line
The belief that welfare provides a disincentive to work by providing a well-paying "free ride" that enables recipients, stereotyped as "Cadillac queens," to purchase extravagant items with their benefits is another myth. In reality, recipients live considerably below the poverty threshold. Despite increased program spending, the average monthly family benefit, measured in 1995 dollars, fell from $713 in 1970 to $377 in 1995, a 47 percent drop. In 26 states, AFDC benefits alone fell 64 percent short of the 1996 poverty guidelines, and the addition of food stamps only reduced this gap to 35 percent (Staff of House Committee on Ways and Means, 1996).
Despite the ready availability of facts, myths about welfare continue to be widespread. The media contributes to this lack of information. The media helps shape public perceptions about welfare recipients. The way in which a topic is reported can turn a neutral reader into an opinionated reader and can greatly influence public opinion. Although in an analysis of articles published in 10 major newspapers from January 1997 to April 1997, the tone was generally sympathetic to the poor, actual research and facts to counter myths were generally lacking (Wyche & Mattern, 1997).

I'd also add that due to welfare reform, the maximum lifetime welfare benefits you can receive is 60 months.

LBJ: Before the War on Poverty - HISTORY

Did the United States lose the war on poverty?

Digital History TOPIC ID 111

Lyndon Baines Johnson had a vision for America. During the 1964 Presidential campaign he often spoke about it. He envisioned an America "where no child will go unfed and no youngster will go unschooled where every child has a good teacher and every teacher has good pay, and both have good classrooms where every human being has dignity and every worker has a job. " Johnson called his vision the Great Society, and he committed his administrating to waging a "war on poverty."

To combat poverty, the federal government raised the minimum wage and enacted a battery of programs to train poorer Americans for better jobs. To assure adequate housing, the government attacked urban blight, began a program of rent subsidies, and set up a cabinet-level Department of Housing and Urban Development. To promote education, the federal government set up a system of college loans. To address the nation's health needs, the federal government enacted Medicaid,to pay for the medical expenses of the poor, and Medicare, extending medical insurance to older Americans under the Social Security System.

When Lyndon Johnson left the presidency in 1969, he left behind the legacy of a transformed federal government. At the end of the Eisenhower presidency in 1961, there were only 45 domestic social programs. By 1969 the number had climbed to 435. Federal social spending, excluding Social Security, rose from $9.9 billion in 1960 to $25.6 billion in 1968. Johnson's "war on poverty" represented the broadest attack Americans had ever waged on the special problems facing poor and disadvantaged families. It declared decisively that the problems of the poor--problems of housing, income, employment, and health--were ultimately a federal responsibility.

When Johnson announced his Great Society program in 1964, he promised to reduce poverty, alleviate hunger and malnutrition, expand community medical care, provide adequate housing, and enhance the employability of the poor. Did he keep his promise?

When President Johnson came to office 22 percent of the nation's families lived in poverty (down from 30 percent in 1950). The nation's largest programs to assist the poor--Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Social Security, and Food Stamps--provided meager benefits to only a small proportion of the country's impoverished population. AFDC paid just $388 a month (in 1980 dollars) to a family of four Social Security payments averaged just $184 a month (in 1980 dollars) and food stamps reached just two percent of the nation's poor. Medicare and medicaid did not exist. Thirty-three million poor people competed for just 600,000 public housing units.

When Johnson left office, the official poverty rate had fallen from 22 percent in 1960 to 13 percent - which is where the poverty rate remains today. AFDC payments had risen to $577 (in 1980 dollars). Infant mortality among the poor, which had barely declined between 1950 and 1965, fell by one-third in the decade after 1965 as a result of the expansion of federal medical and nutritional programs. Before the implementation of Medicaid and Medicare, 20 percent of the poor had never been examined by a physician when Johnson retired as president the figure had been cut to 8 percent. The proportion of families living in substandard housing--that is, housing lacking indoor plumbing - also declined steeply, from 20 percent in 1960 to 11 percent a decade later.

Despite these gains, Johnson's critics charge that "in the war on poverty, poverty won." Political conservatives argued that public assistance, food subsidies, health programs, and child care programs weakened poorer families. President Ronald Reagan voiced a common conservative viewpoint when he declared, "There is no question that many well-intentioned Great Society-type programs contributed to family breakups, welfare dependency, and a large increase in births out of wedlock."

To support their arguments, conservatives cite a close chronological connection between increased government welfare expenditures and dramatic increases in female-headed households and illegitimacy among the poor. Back in 1959, just ten percent of low-income Americans lived in a single-parent household. By 1980, the figure had climbed to 44 percent. At the same time the number of illegitimate births among the poor grew substantially. Had the number of single-parent families remained at the 1970 level, the number of poor families in 1980 would have been 32 percent lower than it was.

Did the expansion of state services contribute to rising rates of illegitimacy and single parenthood? The answer to this question remains in dispute. On the one hand, there is no empirical evidence that there is a correlation between the level of welfare payments the number of children in single parent families. Other studies have shown that increases in the wages of the poor produce a sharp drop in female-headed households - suggesting that it is low wages and unstable jobs, and not the level of welfare payments, that are the major contributors to family instability.

Some of the apparent deterioration in poor families is illusory. If female-headed families made up a growing proportion of the poor, this partly reflected a sharp reduction in poverty among other groups. One of the consequences of the Great Society was to dramatically alter the profile of the poor. Increases in Social Security payments sharply reduced the incidence of poverty among the elderly. The Supplemental Social Security program introduced in 1973 greatly reduced poverty among the disabled. As a result of reductions in poverty among the elderly and disabled and increases in the number of single parent, female headed households, poverty has been increasingly feminized.

And yet, if the war on poverty accomplished more than its critics charged, there can be little doubt that the Johnson administration failed to persuade Americans that it had been successful. Beginning with the Presidential election of 1988, the Republican party won five of six elections and controlled the White House for sixteen of twenty years. Why?

A 1969 book entitled The Emerging Republican Majority by political commentator Kevin Phillips offered an answer. He claimed that the Great Society provoked an angry reaction among large segments of the white working class and middle class. Issues of race - such as affirmative action, school busing, residential integration, and racial preferences in job selection and government contracting - along with a reaction against the antiwar movement, cultural permissiveness, crime, cutbacks in local control of schools and neighborhoods, and liberal Supreme Court decisions on subjects ranging from pornography to the rights of criminal defendants, Phillips argued, had fractured the political coalition that had arisen during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

1. Divorce rates, illegitimacy rates, and single parenthood increased not only among the poor but among the middle class as well. How would you account for these changes in family patterns?

2. Certain structural changes in the American economy have contributed to high unemployment rates in central city areas. Identify these structural changes.

3. Why, in your view, has the poverty rate remained roughly constant since 1969?


[1] See Conversation WH6407-18-4407 .
[2] For the early part of Johnson’s presidency, see Randall B. Woods, LBJ: Architect of American Ambition (New York: Free Press, 2006), 415–500.
[3] Kent B. Germany, ed., Presidential Recordings of Lyndon B. Johnson: Civil Rights, 1964 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010) Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years:1963–65 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998), 361–400.
[4] John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 272–302.
[5] Thomas J. Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North (New York: Random House, 2008).
[6] James T. Patterson, America’s Struggle Against Poverty, 1900–1994 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994), 105–11.
[7] Thomas F. Jackson, From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007).
[8] Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard, eds., Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside the South, 1940–1980 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).
[9] “Poverty and Urban Policy: Conference Transcript of 1973 Group Discussion of the Kennedy Administration Urban Poverty Programs and Policies,” Brandeis University, 16–17 June 1973, in The John F. Kennedy Presidential Oral History Collection, pt. 1 (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1988), 162–63.
[10] Transcript, Walter F. Heller Oral History Interview 1, 20 February 1970, by David McComb, Lyndon B. Johnson Library, pp. 20–21.
[11] James L. Sundquist, Politics and Policy: The Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson Years (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1968), 115–25 Alice O’Connor, Poverty Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy and the Poor in Twentieth-Century U.S. History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 124–28 Noel A. Cazenave, Impossible Democracy: The Unlikely Success of the War on Poverty Community Action Programs (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007), 19–63.
[12] Peter Marris and Martin Rein, Dilemmas of Social Reform: Poverty and Community Action in the United States (New York: Atherton Press, 1967), 20–30 O’Connor, Poverty Knowledge, 127–36.
[13] “Poverty and Urban Policy,” pp. 126–28, 144–45, 172–73,177–79 Sundquist, Politics and Policy, 138–39 Allen J. Matusow, The Unraveling of America: A History of Liberalism in the 1960s (New York: Harper & Rowe, 1984), 12–22.
[14] Heller Oral History Interview 1, pp. 26–28 Transcript, William Cannon Oral History Interview 1, 21 May 1982, by Michael L. Gillette, Lyndon B. Johnson Library, pp. 3–11 Matusow, The Unraveling of America, 122–23.
[15] “Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union, 8 January 1964,” Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–64 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1965), 1:114.
[16] For an insightful study of the rhetorical strategies surrounding the War on Poverty, see David Zarefsky, President Johnson’s War on Poverty: Rhetoric and History (University: University of Alabama Press, 1986).
[17] Johnson to Kermit Gordon and Robert Anderson, 10:37 A.M., 8 January 1964, in The Presidential Recordings, Lyndon B. Johnson: The Kennedy Assassination and the Transfer of Power, November 1963– January 1964, vol. 3, January 1964, ed. Kent B. Germany and Robert David Johnson (New York: Norton 2005), 275. Gareth Davies emphasizes the centrality of traditional American themes of opportunity and uplift in the initial conception of the War on Poverty. Gareth Davies, From Opportunity to Entitlement: The Transformation and Decline of Great Society Liberalism (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1996).
[18] Johnson to Walter Heller, 12:00 P.M., 23 December 1964, in The Presidential Recordings, Lyndon B. Johnson: The Kennedy Assassination and the Transfer of Power, November 1963–January 1964, vol. 2, December 1963, ed. Robert David Johnson and David Shreve (New York: Norton, 2005), 699.
[19] On Johnson and the NYA, see Woods, LBJ, 106–15 Sidney M. Milkis, “Lyndon Johnson, the Great Society, and the ‘Twilight’ of the Modern Presidency,” in The Great Society and the High Tide of Liberalism, ed. Milkis and Jerome M. Mileur (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005), 3– 4, 9–13, 30–31.
[20] Richard Daley to Lyndon Johnson, 6:10 P.M., 20 January 1964, in Presidential Recordings, Johnson, vol. 3 , January 1964, ed. Germany and Johnson, p. 651.
[21] Roy Wilkins, 5:12 P.M., 6 January 1964, ibid., pp. 193–94.
[22] See Johnson to Sargent Shriver, 1:02 P.M. Sargent Shriver to Johnson, 2:25 P.M. Johnson to Sargent Shriver, Time Unknown and Sargent Shriver to Johnson, 6:28 P.M., all occurring on 1 February 1964, in The Presidential Recordings, Lyndon B. Johnson: Toward the Great Society, February 1, 1964May 31, 1964, vol. 4, February 1, 1964–March 8, 1964, ed. Robert David Johnson and Kent B. Germany (New York: Norton, 2007), 13–25, 36–49, 55–70.
[23] Sargent Shriver to Johnson, 2:25 P.M., ibid., p. 36.
[24] Transcript, Adam Yarmolinsky Oral History Interview 2, 21 October 1980, by Michael L. Gillette, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, p. 3.
[25] Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), “The Office of Economic Opportunity During the Administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson November 1963–January 1969,” 1969, “Volume I, Part II Narrative History” folder (1 of 3), Box 1, Special Files: Administrative Histories, Lyndon B. Johnson Library, pp. 28–29.
[26] Ibid., pp. 35–38 Congressional Quarterly Almanac, 88th Cong., 2nd sess., 1964, vol. 20 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Service, 1965), 210–12.
[27] “Poverty and Urban Policy,” p. 287. The jobs program would have been funded by a tax on tobacco products. In another account of the meeting, Yarmolinsky stated that “the President just ignored him [Wirtz]. It was a shocking demonstration of the way Johnson sometimes handled things. He didn’t even bother to respond he just went on to the next item on the agenda.” Yarmolinsky Oral History Interview 2, pp. 3–5.
[28] O’Connor, Poverty Knowledge, 121–23, 141–42, 164–65 Judith Russell, Economics, Bureaucracy, and Race: How Keynesians Misguided the War on Poverty (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).
[29] “Poverty and Urban Policy,” pp. 243–49, 254–55 Adam Yarmolinsky Oral History Interview 1, 13 July 1970, by Paige Mulhollan, Lyndon B. Johnson Library, pp. 9–11 Yarmolinsky Oral History Interview 3, 22 October 1980, by Michael L. Gillette, Lyndon B. Johnson Library, pp. 15–17. For evidence that some of the poverty planners recognized the radical potential of maximum feasible participation, see F. O’R. Hayes, “The Role of Indigenous Organizations in Community Action Programs,” 4 May 1964, Office Files of White House Aides: Fred Bohen, Box 2, “OEO Material,” Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, p. 3 “Poverty and Urban Policy,” p. 230 Jack Conway Oral History Interview 1, 13 August 1980, by Michael L. Gillette, Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, pp. 18–19, 24–25.
[30] Annelise Orleck, Storming Caesars Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty (Boston: Beacon Press, 2005) Kent B. Germany, New Orleans After the Promises: Poverty, Citizenship, and the Search for the Great Society (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007) Susan Youngblood Ashmore, Carry It On: The War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, 1964–1972 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008) Robert Bauman, Race and the War on Poverty: From Watts to East L.A. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008) Julia Rabig, The Fixers: Devolution, Development, and Civil Society in Newark, 1960–1990 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016) Michael Woodsworth, Battle for Bed-Stuy: The Long War on Poverty in New York City (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016).
[31] OEO, “The Office of Economic Opportunity during the Administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson,” pp. 31–33 Orville Freeman to Lyndon Johnson, 8:08 P.M., 6 March 1964, in Presidential Recordings, Johnson, vol. 4, February 1, 1964–March 8, 1964, ed. Johnson and Germany, pp. 958–59.
[32] “Special Message to the Congress Proposing a Nationwide War on the Sources of Poverty,” 16 March 1964, Public Papers, Johnson, 1963–64, 1:376 OEO, “The Office of Economic Opportunity during the Administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson,” p. 34 Congressional Quarterly Almanac, 1964, vol. 20, pp. 215–22.
[33] Sundquist, Politics and Policy, 146–47.
[34] For both the Smith and Powell issues, see Sargent Shriver to Johnson, 7:38 P.M., 30 April 1964, in The Presidential Recordings, Lyndon B. Johnson: Toward the Great Society, February 1, 1964–May 31, 1964, vol. 6, April 14, 1964–May 31, 1964, ed. Guian A. McKee (New York: Norton, 2007), 367–75.
[35] Johnson to Bill Moyers, 6:03 P.M., 23 April 1964, in ibid., pp. 191–99.
[36] Johnson to Phil Landrum, 10:00 A.M., 14 May 1964, in ibid., pp. 708–12, and other related conversations in volume 6.
[37] Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward, Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare (New York: Random House, 1971).
[38] See Conversation WH6408-12-4815-4816-4817 between Bill Moyers and Johnson.
[39] Ibid.
[40] For Yarmolinsky’s memory of these events, see Yarmolinsky Oral History Interview 1, pp. 16–27 Yarmolinsky Oral History Interview 3, pp. 38–40 Michael L. Gillette, Launching the War on Poverty: An Oral History (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996), 134–40.
[41] Congressional Quarterly Almanac, 89th Cong., 1st sess., 1965, vol. 21 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Service, 1966), 405–6, 416–420 Robert C. Albright, “Poverty Bill Attacked by GOP as Wasteful,” Washington Post, 17 August 1965 Steven Gerstel, “Governor Veto on Poverty Aid Loses,” Washington Post, 18 August 1965 Joe Hall, “Senate Votes $1.65 Billion Poverty Bill,” Washington Post, 18 August 1965.
[42] Congressional Quarterly Almanac, 90th Cong., 1st Sess., 1967, vol. 23 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Service, 1968), 1075–81 OEO, “The Office of Economic Opportunity during the Administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson,” 598–604.
[43] For the Ribicoff hearings, and the Johnson-RFK rivalry generally, see Jeff Shesol, Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud that Defined a Decade (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997), 244–50.
[44] Annelise Orleck and Lisa Gayle Hazirjian, The War on Poverty: A New Grassroots History, 1964–1980 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011), along with the works cited in note 30 above.

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LBJ's war on poverty and its failures

Standing on his presidential limousine, Lyndon Johnson, campaigning in Providence, R.I., in September 1964, bellowed through a bullhorn: "We're in favor of a lot of things and we're against mighty few." This was a synopsis of what he had said four months earlier.

Fifty years ago this Thursday, at the University of Michigan, Johnson had proposed legislating into existence a Great Society. It would end poverty and racial injustice, "but that is just the beginning." It would "rebuild the entire urban United States" while fending off "boredom and restlessness," and enhancing "the meaning of our lives" – all by assembling "the best thought and the broadest knowledge." In 1964, 76 percent of Americans trusted government to do the right thing "just about always or most of the time " today, 19 percent do. The former number is one reason Johnson did so much the latter is one consequence of his doing so.

Barry Goldwater, Johnson's 1964 opponent who assumed that Americans would vote to have a third president in 14 months, suffered a landslide defeat. After voters rebuked FDR in 1938 for attempting to "pack" the Supreme Court, Republicans and Southern Democrats prevented any liberal legislating majority in Congress until 1965. That year, however, when 68 senators and 295 representatives were Democrats, Johnson was unfettered.

He remains, regarding government's role, much the most consequential 20th-century president. Indeed, the American Enterprise Institute's Nicholas Eberstadt, in his measured new booklet "The Great Society at Fifty: The Triumph and the Tragedy," says LBJ, more than FDR, "profoundly recast the common understanding of the ends of governance."

When Johnson became president in 1963, Social Security was America's only nationwide social program. His programs and those they subsequently legitimated put the nation on the path to the present, in which changed social norms – dependency on government has been destigmatized – have changed America's national character.

Between 1959 and 1966 – before the War on Poverty was implemented – the percentage of Americans living in poverty plunged by about one-third, from 22.4 to 14.7, slightly lower than in 2012. But, Eberstadt cautions, the poverty rate is "incorrigibly misleading" because government transfer payments have made income levels and consumption levels significantly different. Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, disability payments, heating assistance and other entitlements have, Eberstadt says, made income "a poor predictor of spending power for lower-income groups." Stark material deprivation is now rare:

"By 2011 … average per capita housing space for people in poverty was higher than the U.S. average for 1980. … 'Many' appliances were more common in officially impoverished homes in 2011 than in the typical American home of 1980. … DVD players, personal computers, and home Internet access are now typical in them – amenities not even the richest U.S. households could avail themselves of at the start of the War on Poverty."

Twenty-nine percent of Americans – about 47 percent of blacks and 48 percent of Hispanics – live in households receiving means-tested benefits. And "the proportion of men 20 and older who are employed has dramatically and almost steadily dropped since the start of the War on Poverty, falling from 80.6 percent in January 1964 to 67.6 percent 50 years later." Because work – independence, self-reliance – is essential to the culture of freedom, ominous developments have coincided with Great Society policies:

For every adult man ages 20 to 64 who is between jobs and looking for work, more than three are neither working nor seeking work, a trend that began with the Great Society. And what Eberstadt calls "the earthquake that shook family structure in the era of expansive anti-poverty policies" has seen out-of-wedlock births increase from 7.7 percent in 1965 to more than 40 percent in 2012, including 72 percent of black babies.

The US declared war on poverty 50 years ago. You would never know it

T his 8 January marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's declaration of "unconditional war on poverty". The statement came in a state of the union address that, because of its often drab prose, has rarely drawn much praise. But a half century later, it's time to re-examine the case Johnson made in 1964 for remedying poverty in America.

In an era such as our own, when – despite a poverty rate the Census Bureau puts at 16% – Congress is preparing to cut the food stamp program and has refused to extend unemployment insurance, Johnson's compassion stands out, along with his nuanced sense of who the poor are and what can be done to make their lives better.

Johnson's 1964 ideas on how to wage a war on poverty (today a family of four living on $23,492 a year and an individual living on $11,720 a year are classified as poor) not only conflict with the current thinking of those on the right who would reduce government aid to the needy. They also conflict with the current thinking of those on the left who would make the social safety net, rather than fundamental economic change, the answer to poverty.

Johnson's approach to poverty reflects the influence of John F Kennedy and the New Deal thinking of Franklin Roosevelt, but the passion behind Johnson's call for a war on poverty has its deepest historical parallel in a figure very unlike him – the turn-of-the-century American pragmatist William James. James, in his 1906 essay, the Moral Equivalent of War, made the case for bringing the fervor we associate with war to improving civic life.

In words that might easily have been spoken by James, Johnson declared:

In the past we have often been called upon to wage war against foreign enemies which threatened our freedom. Today we are asked to declare war on a domestic enemy which threatens the strength of our nation and the welfare of our people.

On 4 December 1963, shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy, Johnson wrote a letter to the American Public Welfare Association in which he spoke of launching an "attack on poverty". But over the course of 1964, it was through a series of public addresses and in championing such legislation as the Economic Opportunity Act, for which Congress, at Johnson's urging, appropriated $947m, that LBJ showed how committed he was to eradicating poverty.

At the core of Johnson's war on poverty, which he continually linked to civil rights, lay his belief that, while coming to the rescue of the poor was important, temporary relief could not be the basis of victory. "The war on poverty is not a struggle simply to support people, to make them dependent on the generosity of others," LBJ insisted. "We want to offer the forgotten fifth of our people opportunity and not doles."

For Johnson, the war on poverty was a struggle to transfer power to those in need by enabling them to stand on their own feet. Better schools, better healthcare, better job training were fundamental to Johnson's war on poverty because these measures allowed those who were once poor to compete equally. They no longer had to ask others to take pity on them.

The initial agent for achieving such change, Johnson had no doubt, was the government, and he made no apologies for government activism as far as LBJ was concerned, government had historically played an activist role in American life. He believed he was proposing nothing the country had not done in different ways before.

In March 1964, when he formally proposed his nationwide war on poverty, Johnson told Congress:

From the establishment of public education and land-grant colleges, through agricultural extension and encouragement to industry, we have pursued the goal of a nation with full and increasing opportunities for all its citizens.

In helping people out of poverty, Johnson realized that he was making American society more egalitarian by lessening the gap between rich and poor, but he did not see the action he was taking as detrimental to the wealthy. His war on poverty was not a zero sum game in which one group's gains promised another group's losses. "Our history has proved that each time we broaden the base of abundance." Johnson argued, "we create new industry, higher production, increased earnings, and better income for all".

At a period when the economy was expanding, and polls indicated that more than 75% of Americans believed they "could trust government to do the right thing most of the time", Johnson's argument resonated with voters more readily than it would today. In the end, though, LBJ was unwilling to let his efforts depend on economics alone. He made a point of defending the moral basis of a war on poverty:

Because it is right, because it is wise.

In Johnson's eyes, the measure of a victorious war on poverty rested on achieving an America "in which every citizen shares all the opportunities of his society". By contrast, "soulless wealth", as Johnson observed during a speech at the University of Michigan, was abundance that remained inaccessible to all but a relative few. Soulless wealth typified a society divided between haves and have-nots.

We will never know how much more successful Johnson's war on poverty might have been without the impact of the Vietnam War on the American economy and American political life. Yet by 1973, just nine years after Johnson's declaration of war, poverty in America was down to 11.1%, compared to 19% when Johnson took office.

This is an achievement we have not equaled in recent years, but it is one we should learn from, especially as we continue to struggle with built-in headwinds such as a federal minimum wage of just $7.25 per hour ($15,080 annually) and the lingering effects of the Great Recession.

LBJ: Before the War on Poverty - HISTORY

Americans love to declare war on abstract ideas. The War on Christmas, the War on Drugs and, declared on Jan. 8, 1964, the War on Poverty. Much like these other “wars,” President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty was, by and large, a failure.

In 1964, poverty wasn’t a new problem, but it was a newly realized and newly contextualized problem after the first numbers on poverty came out in 1959.

During Johnson’s 1964 State of the Union Address, he laid out his offensive against poverty to not only “relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.” Expansion in government-funded education and healthcare were foundations of the plan–foundations that can still be seen today in programs such as Head Start, the TRIO college opportunity program, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Unfortunately for the country and for Johnson’s plan, the War on Poverty was prohibitively expensive. At least, it was prohibitively expensive while the nation made the war in Vietnam the top priority in the 1960s and 1970s. The war on poverty didn’t start rolling again after the conclusion of the war in Vietnam, either, with successive presidents cutting down funding for Johnson’s program in an effort to dismantle what they called the welfare state.

Today, 80 percent of the population divvies up a little less than half of the total income. We are a nation of haves and have-nots. Most notable are the 45 million have-nots who fall under the poverty line–$23,850 annual income for a family of four, $15,730 for a couple, and $11,670 for an individual: that’s how around 15 percent of the total population live. And 33 percent of the population� million people–live in close proximity to the poverty line with incomes less than double the poverty threshold.

War on Poverty: Portraits From an Appalachian Battleground, 1964

The staggering range and sheer excellence of the late John Dominis’ pictures—his Korean War coverage his portraits of pop-culture icons like Sinatra, Redford and McQueen his beautiful treatment of the “big cats” of Africa his virile sports photography—place him firmly among the premier photojournalists of his day. But a lesser-known photo essay that Dominis shot for LIFE magazine, focusing on the plight of Appalachians in eastern Kentucky in the early 1960s, spotlights another aspect of the man’s great talent: namely, an ability to portray the forgotten and the afflicted while never sacrificing the dignity of his subjects.

The extraordinary 12-page feature for the Jan. 31, 1964, issue of LIFE, titled “The Valley of Poverty” one of the very first substantive reports in any American publication on President Lyndon Johnson’s nascent War on Poverty .

At the time, LIFE was arguably the most influential weekly magazine in the country, and without doubt the most widely read magazine anywhere to regularly publish major photo essays by the world’s premier photojournalists. In that light, LIFE was in a unique position in the early days of Johnson’s administration to not merely tell but to show its readers what was at stake, and what the challenges were, as the new president’s “Great Society” got under way.

“The Valley of Poverty,” illustrated with some of the most powerful and intimate photographs of Dominis’ career, served (and still serves today) as an indictment of a wealthy nation’s indifference.

As LIFE put it to the magazine’s readers in January 1964:

In a lonely valley in eastern Kentucky, in the heart of the mountainous region called Appalachia, live an impoverished people whose plight has long been ignored by affluent America. Their homes are shacks without plumbing or sanitation. Their landscape is a man-made desolation of corrugated hills and hollows laced with polluted streams. The people, themselves often disease-ridden and unschooled are without jobs and even without hope. Government relief and handouts of surplus food have sustained them on a bare subsistence level for so many years that idleness and relief are now their accepted way of life.

President Johnson, who has declared “unconditional war on poverty in America,” has singled out Appalachia as a major target. . . . Appalachia stretches from northern Alabama to southern Pennsylvania, and the same disaster that struck eastern Kentucky hit the whole region the collapse of the coal industry 20 years ago, which left Appalachia a vast junkyard. It was no use for the jobless miners to try farming strip mining has wrecked much of the land and, in any case, the miners had lost contact with the soil generations ago. . . . Unless the grim chain [of unemployment and lack of education] can be broken, a second generation coming of age in Appalachia will fall into the same dismal life a life that protects them from starvation but deprives them of self-respect and hope.

In a shack near Neon, Ky., Delphi Mobley comforted daughter Riva, who was ill with measles. Proper medical care was beyond her $125 monthly welfare pay.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

“Nadine McFall, 1, happily reached over to pat the stomach of a huge doll—its wardrobe long since lost and never replaced —as she squatted on a crowded couch in her great grandmother’s shack near Neon.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

On a wintry afternoon in Line Fork Creek a family trudged across a rickety suspension bridge over a sewage-polluted stream to its two-room shack.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Youngsters lapped up a surplus-commodity supper of pan-fried biscuits, gravy and potatoes at the Odell Smiths of Friday Branch Creek. The newspapers were pasted by Mrs. Smith in an effort to keep the place neat.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

JJohn Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

All over Appalachia the ruins of trestles jutted from deserted hillside coal mines. This mine had once offered workers a good living, but it closed in 1945.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Tearing with bare hands at frozen lumps of coal, Willard Bryant and his son Billy crouched between railroad tracks, scavenging fuel to heat their home. When the tub was full, they dragged it to the hill where they live, reloaded the coal into bags and carried it on their backs to the house.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

In a one-room school at Thornton Gap, pupils were constantly out sick during the winter.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia’s young people, like Roberta Oliver, 14, from Rock House Creek, Ky., were often sad-faced and prematurely aged. Most suffered fatigue because of a diet of surplus food, heavy in starches like flour and rice and inadequately augmented by lard and cheese, butter and ground pork.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

In the Thorton Gap Regular Baptist Church, a tar-paper-covered shed heated to stifling by a big stove, preacher Elzie Kiser, 62, called on his small flock to “get with God.”

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Eighteen-year-old Ray Martin was a lucky man by local standards. He had a job in a mine near Isom, one of the shoestring ‘dog holes’ kept operating thanks to low wages, back-breaking labor, overused equipment and minimal safety measures.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Appalachia, eastern Kentucky, 1964.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A cow was a rare sight in Appalachia. The people are not country folk but an industrial population who happened to live in the country. Many kept chickens, but farming was seldom practiced.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

The commonest sights around Appalachia were aging men and ragged urchins.

John Dominis/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Watch the video: LBJ DAUGHTER ON FATHERS WAR ON POVERTY (January 2022).