Archive for April 6th, 2011

Johnson ad on Poverty


Johnson explains what problems faces poor Americans.

“War on Poverty” speech

Proposal for A Nationwide War On The Sources of Poverty’
Lyndon B. Johnson’s Special Message to Congress, March 16, 1964

Because it is right, because it is wise, and because, for the first time in our history, it is possible to conquer poverty, I submit, for the consideration of the Congress and the country, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.

The Act does not merely expand old programs or improve what is already being done. It charts a new course. It strikes at the causes, not just the consequences of poverty. It can be a milestone in our one-hundred eighty year search for a better life for our people.

This Act provides five basic opportunities. It will give almost half a million underprivileged young Americans the opportunity to develop skills, continue education, and find useful work. It will give every American community the opportunity to develop a comprehensive plan to fight its own poverty-and help them to carry out their plans. It will give dedicated Americans the opportunity to enlist as volunteers in the war against poverty. It will give many workers and farmers the opportunity to break through particular barriers which bar their escape from poverty. It will give the entire nation the opportunity for a concerted attack on poverty through the establishment, tinder my direction, of the Office of Economic Opportunity, a national headquarters for the war against poverty.

This is how we propose to create these opportunities. First we will give high priority to helping young Americans who lack skills, who have not completed their education or who cannot complete it because they arc too poor. . . . I therefore recommend the creation of a Job Corps, a Work-Training Program, and a Work Study Program. A new national job Corps will build toward an enlistment of 100,000 young men. They will be drawn from those whose background, health and education make them least fit for useful work. . . . Half of these young men will work, in the first year, on special conservation projects to give them education, useful work experience and to enrich the natural resources of the country. Half of these young men will receive, in the first year, a blend of training, basic education and work experience in job Training Centers. . . .A new national Work-Training Program operated by the Department of Labor will provide work and training for 200,000 American men and women between the ages of 16 and 21. This will be developed through state and local governments and non-profit agencies. . . .A new national Work-Study Program operated by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare will provide federal funds for part-time jobs for 140,000 young Americans who do not go to college because they cannot afford it. There is no more senseless waste than the waste of the brainpower and skill of those who are kept from college by economic circumstance. Under this program they will, in a great American tradition, be able to work their way through school. . . .

Second, through a new Community Action program we intend to strike at poverty at its source – in the streets of our cities and on the farms of our countryside among the very young and the impoverished old. This program asks men and women throughout the country to prepare long-range plans for the attack on poverty in their own local communities. . . .

Third, I ask for the authority to recruit and train skilled volunteers for the war against poverty. Thousands of Americans have volunteered to serve the needs of other lands. Thousands more want the chance to serve the needs of their own land. They should have that chance. Among older people who have retired, as well as among the young, among women as well as men, there are many Americans who are ready to enlist in our war against poverty. They have skills and dedication. They are badly needed. . .

Fourth, we intend to create new opportunities for certain hard-hit groups to break out of the pattern of poverty. Through a new program of loans and guarantees we can provide incentives to those who will employ the unemployed. Through programs of work and retraining for unemployed fathers and mothers we can help them support their families in dignity while preparing themselves for new work. Through funds to purchase needed land, organize cooperatives, and create new and adequate family farms we can help those whose life on the land has been a struggle without hope.

Fifth, I do not intend that the war against poverty become a series of uncoordinated and unrelated efforts – that it perish for lack of leadership and direction. Therefore this bill creates, in the Executive Office of the President, a new Office of Economic Opportunity. Its Director will be my personal Chief of Staff for the War against poverty. I intend to appoint Sargent Shriver to this post. . . .

What you are being asked to consider is not a simple or an easy program. But poverty is not a simple or an easy enemy. It cannot be driven from the land by a single attack on a single front. Were this so we would have conquered poverty long ago. Nor can it be conquered by government alone. . . .

Today, for the first time in our history, we have the power to strike away the barriers to full participation in our society. Having the power, we have the duty .. . . . We are fully aware that this program will not eliminate all the poverty in America in a few months or a few years. Poverty is deeply rooted and its causes are many. But this program will show the way to new opportunities for millions of our fellow citizens. It will provide a lever with which we can begin to open the door to our prosperity for those who have been kept outside. It will also give us the chance to test our weapons, to try our energy and ideas and imagination for the many battles yet to come. As conditions change, and as experience illuminates our difficulties, we will be prepared to modify our strategy.

And this program is much more than a beginning. Rather it is a commitment. It is a total commitment by this President, and this Congress, and this nation, to pursue victory over the most ancient of mankind’s enemies.

Source: from Public Papers of U.S. Presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-1964 (Washington: G.P.O., 1965), 1, pp. 375-380.

Images from the War on Poverty and speech on Food Stamp Act

Most of these are from the LBJ library….

Johnson personally went to Appalachia; here he visits the Fletcher family in Inez Kentucky. The Fletcher family still lives in this home.

Mrs. Johnson washes her hands before eating lunch with students at an elementary school. Note the lack of plumbing or running water.

Sadly, Appalachia is still mired in poverty. Visit this website to learn more:

Another key component to fighting poverty was education, so Johnson initiated Project Head Start to provided federally funded preschool education to increase readiness for school among low-income children.

I think those two little boys sharing a chair are interfering with someone’s enjoyment of story time…

Adequate nutrition was a key component for helping families out of poverty. Here Johnson signs the bill initiating the Food Stamps program

Johnson signs the Food Stamp Bill

Here’s what he said on August 31, 1964 in an address to Congress:

Members of the Congress, ladies and gentlemen:

I am proud to sign the Food Stamp Act of 1964 because it is a realistic and responsible step toward the fuller and wiser use of our agricultural abundance.

I believe the Food Stamp Act weds the best of the humanitarian instincts of the American people with the best of the free enterprise system. Instead of establishing a duplicate public system to distribute food surplus to the needy, this act permits us to use our highly efficient commercial food distribution system.

It is one of many sensible and needed steps we have taken to apply the power of America’s new abundance to the task of building a better life for every American.

In 1961 President Kennedy’s first Executive order doubled the quantity and variety of foods to be distributed to the needy. Today nearly 6 million people enjoy a better share of our food abundance through this program and up to 15 different food items are now available.

Likewise, this year we anticipate that 17 million children–3.2 million more than in 1960–will enjoy hot lunches in their schools, many of them for the first time. This is because of the sustained effort made to help our schools provide student lunches.

For 3 years we have conducted pilot operations for the food stamp program in both urban and rural areas. These tests have exceeded our best expectations. They have raised the diets of low-income families substantially while strengthening markets for the farmer and immeasurably improving the volume of retail food sales.

As a permanent program, the food stamp plan will be one of our most valuable weapons for the war on poverty.

It will enable low income families to increase their food expenditures, using their own dollars.

Our efforts to make better use of abundance are not limited to domestic programs. Hunger is a worldwide challenge. Through the Food for Peace program, we are sharing 7 percent more of our food with other peoples than in 1960. Our food abundance is being used constructively not only to combat hunger but also to help other nations to control inflation, generate funds for financing development projects, and to help provide lunches for some 40 million school children throughout the developing world.

The support given the food stamp plan illustrates the willingness of thoughtful Americans to find better uses for our food abundance. I wish to compliment those who have played a role in the passage of this legislation, including the distinguished chairmen of the House and Senate Committees on Agriculture, Senator Ellender and Representative Cooley.

Special tribute is also due Congresswoman Sullivan and Senator Aiken, both of whom have long supported a Federal food stamp program effectively.

Finally, I wish to convey my personal note of thanks to all agencies of State and local governments and to those bankers, food retailers, and wholesalers who have cooperated with the United States Department of Agriculture in this program during its 3-year pilot trial, and, finally, to the majority of the Members of the House and Senate who made it possible for this bill to be on my desk tonight.