Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the 'war on poverty.' Here are five facts about this effort to eradicate poverty in America.
1. The phrase "war on poverty" came from Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 State of the Union Speech, in which the president said:
This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.
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. One thousand dollars invested in salvaging an unemployable youth today can return $40,000 or more in his lifetime.
Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support. But this attack, to be effective, must also be organized at the State and the local level and must be supported and directed by State and local efforts.
For the war against poverty will not be won here in Washington. It must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office, from the courthouse to the White House.
2. Within four years of that speech, the Johnson administration enacted a broad range of programs, including the Economic Opportunity Act (1964), which provided the basis for the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the Job Corps, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Upward Bound, Head Start, Legal Services, the Neighborhood Youth Corps, the Community Action Program (CAP), the college Work-Study program, Neighborhood Development Centers, small business loan programs, rural programs, migrant worker programs, remedial education projects, and local health care centers.
Other important measures with antipoverty functions included an $11 billion tax cut (Revenue Act of 1964), the Civil Rights Act (1964), the Food Stamp Act (1964), the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965), the Higher Education Act (1965), the Social Security amendments creating Medicare/Medicaid (1965), the creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (1965), the Voting Rights Act (1965), the Model Cities Act (1966), the Fair Housing Act (1968), several job-training programs, and various urban renewal-related projects.
3. From the beginning on the war on poverty until 2012, local, state, and federal spending on welfare programs has totaled 15,000,000,000,000. Currently, the United States spends nearly $1 trillion every year to fight poverty. That amounts to $20,610 for every poor person in America, or $61,830 per poor family of three.
4. When the War on Poverty was announced in 1964, 33 million Americans were in poverty and the poverty rate was 19%. Today, approximately 46.5 million Americans live in poverty and the poverty rate is 15%.
5. The poverty rate among married couples is only 6 percent. Among married couples who both have full-time jobs the poverty rate is practically zero (0.001%). The poverty rate among single-dads/moms is much higher: 25% for single dads / 31% for single moms.