After the War on Poverty

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Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an “unconditional War on Poverty” in his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. The War on Poverty created a number of important federal and state initiatives that remain in place today—from Head Start to nutrition assistance to Medicare and Medicaid. These initiatives, coupled with the civil rights advances of the era and the overall strong economy in the 1960s, led to a reduction in the number of people living in poverty from around 19 percent to a historic low of 11.1 percent by the early 1970s.

President Johnson described his War on Poverty as a continuation of the basic American bargain that all people should be given a decent shot at achieving their life goals and securing stable lives built on genuine freedom and economic opportunity:

This budget, and this year’s legislative program, are designed to help each and every American citizen fulfill his basic hopes—his hopes for a fair chance to make good; his hopes for fair play from the law; his hopes for a full-time job on full-time pay; his hopes for a decent home for his family in a decent community; his hopes for a good school for his children with good teachers; and his hopes for security when faced with sickness or unemployment or old age.

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