The war on poverty and the Great Society: Where it made sense and where it needs to be revisited

In 1964, President Lindon Baines Johnson introduced a new plan for our society in his “State of the Union” address.  He put together a plan that on the surface would end poverty, and would also end most of the discriminatory issues of our time.  It was called the “Great Society” and it was one of the most comprehensive plans ever to be put before congress and the American people.  As a society we embraced the plan, and we endeavored to make our country a fairer and more accommodating place for all Americans.  Most Americans were hopeful that this plan would be the panacea to end poverty and discrimination, and the majority of Americans were hopeful that this would do the trick.  Every good deed has a downside, and so did the “Great Society”.  Unintended consequences became evident as the plan was rolled out, and the plan aimed at the black community, and made them slaves to entitlements.  “Many of the liberal social policies instituted as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” inadvertently hurt African American families.”(Ohio State News, Feb. 29, 2004)

The plan was very comprehensive:

Banned poll taxes in federal elections.

24th Amendment

Banned discrimination and segregation in schools, the workplace, and public accommodations based on race, color, sex, religion, and national origin.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

Provided financial aid for urban mass transit systems.

Urban Mass Transportation Act

Authorized Head Start, Job Corps, Work-Study programs, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Neighborhood Youth Corps, and Community Action Programs (CAPS).

Economic Opportunity Act

Strengthened the agricultural economy and provided an improved level of nutrition to low income families.

Food Stamp Act

Banned commercial use in over nine million acres of national forest.

Wilderness Preservation Act

Established Medicare, a health insurance plan for people 65 and older, and Medicaid, a health insurance plan for the poor.

Social Security Acts

Enacted to guarantee enforcement of the 14th and 15th Amendments by eliminating voter literacy tests and discriminatory practices that kept minority populations from voting.

Voting Rights Act

Abolished the National Origins Formula that gave preferential status to immigrants from Northern Europe. Allowed equal immigration status, yet continued to restrict the number of immigrants per year.

Immigration and Nationality Act

Provided federal scholarships, low-interest loans, and financial aid.

Higher Education Act

Provided equal access, high standards, and accountability for primary and secondary education.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act

Administered federal housing programs, commonly referred to as “HUD.”

Department of Housing and Urban Development Act

Enacted the “Model Cities” program to rehabilitate urban areas facing increased violence and poverty through the funding of improvement projects.

Demonstration Cities and Metropolitan Development Act

Truth in Packaging Act

Set standards for labeling consumer products( Evaluating The Success of The Great Society, Washington Post, 2014)

     We are going to concentrate on the elimination of poverty in this essay, but the plan was one

of the greatest that were ever considered in the history of the country, and it did pass with bi-

partisan support. 

       Poverty was addressed in a very aggressive manner.  Welfare was increased exponentially. 

No longer did most underprivileged people go hungry in our country.  Food stamps and food

banks took care of that.   Health care was afforded to people through the Medicare and

Medicaid.  Public housing was afforded for people that would otherwise be homeless.  Financial

Aid was afforded for both education and housing.  In effect, poverty was eradicated in the USA,

and no one that wanted to have a place to live, food to eat, or in need of healthcare needed to

worry in our country. (The Great Society at 50, Tim Worstall) In effect, the “Great Society” did

 what it was designed to do. 

     It eliminated poverty, and the poverty level, when considering both monetary dispersions and

non-monetary benefits, today our poverty level has gone down from 25% to 12%.( Evaluating

 the Success of the Great Society, The Washington Post, 2014)

Our poor, with government benefits, were going to the movies, living in housing with

furniture, heat and air conditioning, had adequate diets, even owning cars.  They were in effect,

more prosperous than many in other countries were that were productive members of those

societies.  There is the problem in a nutshell.  Our people that we have taken out of poverty,

were taken out without any requirement for them to be productive.  They did not have to work

another day in their lives, and their basic needs were guaranteed.  “Welfare dependence is at an

 all-time high and by all indications set to climb in the years ahead.”( The Great Society at 50,

 Nicholas Eberstandt) We missed the mark! 

     We solved poverty, but we did not consider productivity!  We also put into place a system 

that systematically destroyed the black family, making it impossible for an intact family to

collect benefits if a man was part of the process.  Our plan to eliminate poverty, created a social

rather than an economic poverty that to this day is one of the biggest social issues of our time.

“We still live in the shadow of the Great Society”.  (A Not So Great Society, James Pierson 2016)

We have spent a lot of money on the Great Society.  In fact, more money than most people


“It has been estimated the the War on Poverty has cost $22

trillion since its inception. That’s three times the combined

 cost of every war this country has ever fought – from the

Revolutionary War until the present day – according to

 Robert Rector, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

 Roughly another $1 trillion dollars is added to that amount

each year and the cost will continue to increase unless we

 address welfare reform in a serious manner.”

                        (A Not So Great Society, Jame Pierson, 2016)

     To get people off the welfare rolls, and to get them prepared for the job market today is most

important.  We need to train our people for the present and the future job markets.  It is                                                                                                                                                                                           

imperative that welfare programs are modified in order to ensure that minority families can stay

in-tact.  A father figure for minority boys is most important, and that needs to be addressed.

       In our society today, we are going under a revolution in economics.  We are fast going to a

post-industrial economy to an economy that is leaning quickly to one that embraces artificial

intelligence.  This means that skill sets need to be centered around technology, and the

manipulation thereof.  In order to insure economic growth that will support our population

long-term, we need to educate our people for the present and the future.  With the exception

of production jobs that require a close ended distribution channel and elimination of high

transportation costs, people need to be trained for the technology of today and the future.  In

addition, others need to be trained in tradesmen jobs that are now and will be in the future

high earning professions.  Educating our people for the present and the future is a much better

outcome than simply creating a sub-class of people dependent on the government for their

basic needs.  We need to ensure that all of our citizens are given the opportunity to succeed, not

just to subsist!  Once we do that, we will truly have in our hands the “Great Society” that our

forefathers dreamed of!  A wise person in ancient China once said “Give a man a fish, and you

feed him for one day.  Teach a man to fish, and he will have food for a lifetime!”  We will never

solve the poverty issue entirely.  Even Jesus spoke on this subject.  “The poor will always be

with you”.  (NIV John 12:18)  We can, however, create an environment where everyone in our

society who wants to succeed will be given the tools to achieve that lofty goal!


NIV bible, John 12:18  “The poor will always be with us”

A Not So Great Society, James Pierson, Weekly Standard, Sept 30, 2016

The Great Society at 50; Yes, It Has Abolished Poverty, The Weekly Standard, Tim Worstall, May 22,2014

The Great Society at 50, The Weekly Standard, Nicholas Eberstandt, May 20, 2014

Federal Programs To Help African-American Families Have Ultimately Harmed Them, Ohio State News, February 29, 2004

Evaluating The Success of The Great Society, Washington Post, 2014


“Why the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer” by Robert B. Reich

“What College Means to the Other America” • W.E.B. DuBois excerpt from

Souls of Black Folk

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