Fifty Years Later: From a War on Poverty to a War on the Poor

Source: Anna Maria Santiago, Social Problems, Volume 62 Issue 1, First published online: 18 March 2015
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From the introduction:
It was images of poor families taken in rural Appalachia by photographers Billy Barnes, John Dominis, and Andrew Stern, coupled with the writings of The New York Times journalist Homer Bigart and seminal books by scholars Michael Harrington (The Other America [1962]) and John Galbraith (The Affluent Society [{1958}1998]) that brought poverty to light as a major social problem facing a relatively affluent America of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Concerned with expanding opportunities and increasing income for the 37 million Americans living in poverty at the time, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an unconditional war on poverty on January 8, 1964, initiating a “new era of direct federal involvement in schools, hospitals, labor markets, and neighborhoods” (quoted in Bailey and Danziger 2013:1-3). The overarching goals of the War on Poverty were to: sustain high levels of employment; accelerate national and regional economic growth; improve labor markets; regenerate urban and rural communities; expand educational and training opportunities for youth as well as adults; advance the nation’s health; and expand support to the elderly and disabled (Bailey and Danziger 2013:7). To address these goals, Johnson worked with Congress to pass more than 200 pieces of legislation, resulting in the largest expansion of social safety net programs in U.S. history. This legislation created the Medicaid and Medicare programs providing health care to low-income people and the elderly; expanded the Head Start early education program; increased funding for K-12 and postsecondary education; established Food Stamps (currently known as SNAP) and other school and community-based nutrition programs; …