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Legacies of the War on Poverty

Legacies of the War on Poverty

Martha J. Bailey
Sheldon Danziger
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    Legacies of the War on Poverty
    Book Description:

    Many believe that the War on Poverty, launched by President Johnson in 1964, ended in failure. In 2010, the official poverty rate was 15 percent, almost as high as when the War on Poverty was declared. Historical and contemporary accounts often portray the War on Poverty as a costly experiment that created doubts about the ability of public policies to address complex social problems.Legacies of the War on Poverty, drawing from fifty years of empirical evidence, documents that this popular view is too negative. The volume offers a balanced assessment of the War on Poverty that highlights some remarkable policy successes and promises to shift the national conversation on poverty in America.

    Featuring contributions from leading poverty researchers,Legacies of the War on Povertydemonstrates that poverty and racial discrimination would likely have been much greater today if the War on Poverty had not been launched. Chloe Gibbs, Jens Ludwig, and Douglas Miller dispel the notion that the Head Start education program does not work. While its impact on children's test scores fade, the program contributes to participants' long-term educational achievement and, importantly, their earnings growth later in life. Elizabeth Cascio and Sarah Reber show that Title I legislation reduced the school funding gap between poorer and richer states and prompted Southern school districts to desegregate, increasing educational opportunity for African Americans.

    The volume also examines the significant consequences of income support, housing, and health care programs. Jane Waldfogel shows that without the era's expansion of food stamps and other nutrition programs, the child poverty rate in 2010 would have been three percentage points higher. Kathleen McGarry examines the policies that contributed to a great success of the War on Poverty: the rapid decline in elderly poverty, which fell from 35 percent in 1959 to below 10 percent in 2010. Barbara Wolfe concludes that Medicaid and Community Health Centers contributed to large reductions in infant mortality and increased life expectancy. Katherine Swartz finds that Medicare and Medicaid increased access to health care among the elderly and reduced the risk that they could not afford care or that obtaining it would bankrupt them and their families.

    Legacies of the War on Povertydemonstrates that well-designed government programs can reduce poverty, racial discrimination, and material hardships. This insightful volume refutes pessimism about the effects of social policies and provides new lessons about what more can be done to improve the lives of the poor.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-814-7
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. About the Authors
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 Legacies of the War on Poverty
    (pp. 1-36)
    Martha J. Bailey and Sheldon Danziger

    In his first State of the Union Address, Lyndon B. Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty” that aimed “not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it” (Johnson 1964a). Within several years, Johnson’s sweeping legislative achievements transformed American schools and universities, employment and training programs, health insurance for the elderly (Medicare) and poor (Medicaid), and the nature and scope of the social safety net (for example, Food Stamps, now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP]; changes in Aid to Families with Dependent Children, now Temporary Assistance for Needy Families [TANF];...


    • Chapter 2 Head Start Origins and Impacts
      (pp. 39-65)
      Chloe Gibbs, Jens Ludwig and Douglas L. Miller

      Head Start is an early childhood education, health, and parenting intervention started in 1965 as part of the War on Poverty by the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), and remains one of the federal government’s primary tools aimed at reducing disparities in children’s outcomes before they enroll in K-12 education. The importance of early childhood education, emphasized at the inception of the War on Poverty, has only grown over time with our improved understanding of the developmental plasticity of children during the earliest years of life (National Research Council 2000). Head Start is one of the more popular and enduring...

    • Chapter 3 The K-12 Education Battle
      (pp. 66-92)
      Elizabeth Cascio and Sarah Reber

      In a special congressional address on January 12, 1965, President Johnson declared a “national goal of Full Educational Opportunity.” In so doing, he expanded the battlefield in the War on Poverty to include education at all levels, offering as a new weapon a large infusion of federal funds to support programs for the poor. Three months later, his proposal for K-12 education was signed into law. Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) authorized $1 billion in new federal funding ($7 billion in 2009 dollars) for supplemental academic programs for poor “educationally deprived” children. The...

    • Chapter 4 Supporting Access to Higher Education
      (pp. 93-120)
      Bridget Terry Long

      With the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (EOA) and the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA 1965), President Johnson began an unprecedented period of support to help students pay for higher education. Unlike previous policies, which targeted only a limited set of students, the War on Poverty introduced and funded broad-based postsecondary programs meant to help any student prepared academically for college. With a combination of financial aid and college preparatory programs, these programs were the first major step to making mass higher education possible for all Americans.

      With respect to higher education, the War on Poverty introduced several financial...

    • Chapter 5 Workforce Development Programs
      (pp. 121-150)
      Harry J. Holzer

      In early 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson first announced the War on Poverty, employment and training programs for the poor barely existed in the United States at the federal level. The only federal manpower program of the era, the Manpower Development and Training Act (MDTA), was launched in 1962 with relatively little funding or fanfare. Its main purpose was to counteract a bout of “structural unemployment” that many at the time feared would arise as a result of ongoing automation in the economy and worker displacements by technology.

      As a result of the War on Poverty, the primary focus...


    • Chapter 6 The Safety Net for Families with Children
      (pp. 153-178)
      Jane Waldfogel

      In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson made a statement that still seems remarkable today: “This administration, 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” (Johnson 1964a).

      This chapter considers three of the major legacies of the War on Poverty’s efforts to strengthen the safety net for low-income families with children: expanded food and nutrition programs, that is, Food Stamps–Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program...

    • Chapter 7 The Safety Net for the Elderly
      (pp. 179-205)
      Kathleen McGarry

      When Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty in 1964, the poverty rate was 19 percent, a rate deemed far too high for a nation with the wealth and resources of the United States. Yet far worse was the poverty rate for those age sixty-five or older, which stood at 35 percent in 1959 (data for 1964 are not available), more than twice the 17 percent rate among non-elderly adults.¹ Despite this inauspicious start, the War on Poverty has been a success for the elderly by almost any measure. In the most recent data available, the poverty rate for the...

    • Chapter 8 Performance and Legacy of Housing Policies
      (pp. 206-234)
      Edgar O. Olsen and Jens Ludwig

      This chapter assesses the War on Poverty’s performance and legacy in the area of urban housing policy. Several decades after President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the War on Poverty, President Ronald Reagan in his own 1988 State of the Union address famously claimed that the War on Poverty represented a massive failure of government policies to achieve their goals:

      My friends, some years ago, the Federal Government declared war on poverty, and poverty won. Today the Federal Government has 59 major welfare programs and spends more than $100 billion a year on them. What has all this money done? Well,...


    • Chapter 9 Health Programs for Non-Elderly Adults and Children
      (pp. 237-267)
      Barbara Wolfe

      Almost twenty years after President Harry Truman spoke these words in his call to Congress for national health insurance, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicaid and Medicare bills into law. The programs were designed to provide health-care coverage for senior citizens, the disabled, children, and the poor as part of Johnson’s Great Society agenda, unofficially called the War on Poverty. The legacy of Medicaid, neighborhood health centers, and other health programs introduced at this time are the focus of this chapter.

      In 1960, most health care was privately financed. Health insurance financed less than 30 percent of private health spending....

    • Chapter 10 Medicare and Medicaid
      (pp. 268-298)
      Katherine Swartz

      The War on Poverty created two health insurance programs, Medicare and Medicaid, which have had profound effects on the elderly and non-elderly (for details about both programs, see box 10.1). The War on Poverty also created community health centers (CHC) to expand the supply of physicians, nurses, and dentists in rural and low-income areas where assuring financial access to health care would not be enough to increase use.

      With these programs, the War on Poverty’s architects hoped to reduce documented disparities in use of care—among the elderly and between the elderly and non-elderly. Differences in access to health care...

  9. Index
    (pp. 299-310)