Great Society

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Great society)
The pens used by President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign Great Society legislation

The Great Society was a set of domestic programs in the United States launched by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 and 1965. The term was first referenced during a 1964 speech by Johnson at Ohio University,[1] then later formally presented at the University of Michigan, and came to represent his domestic agenda.[2] The main goal was the total elimination of poverty and racial injustice.

New major federal programs that addressed civil rights, education, medical care, urban problems, rural poverty, and transportation were launched during this period. The program and its initiatives were subsequently promoted by LBJ and fellow Democrats in Congress in the 1960s. The Great Society in scope and sweep resembled the 1930s New Deal domestic agenda of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Some Great Society initiatives were derived from earlier New Frontier proposals, which stalled during the Kennedy administration.[3] Johnson's success depended on his skills of persuasion, coupled with the Democratic landslide victory in the 1964 elections that brought in many new liberals to Congress, making the House of Representatives in 1965 the most liberal House since 1938.[4][3] In the 88th Congress it was estimated that there were 56 liberals and 44 conservatives in the Senate, and 224 liberals and 211 conservatives in the House. In the 89th Congress, by contrast, it was estimated that there were 59 liberals and 41 conservatives in the Senate, and 267 liberals and 168 conservatives in the House.[5]

Anti-war Democrats complained that spending on the Vietnam War choked off the Great Society. While some of the programs have been eliminated or had their funding reduced, many of them, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Act and federal education funding, continue to the present. The Great Society's programs expanded under the administrations of Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.[6]

Economic and social conditions[edit]

Johnson's Great Society initiatives came during a period of rapid economic growth in the U.S., unlike the New Deal three decades earlier, which was a response to the Great Depression. Kennedy proposed an across-the-board tax cut lowering the top marginal income tax rate in the United States by 20%, from 91% to 71%, which was enacted in February 1964, three months after Kennedy's assassination, under Johnson. The tax cut also significantly reduced marginal rates in the lower brackets as well as for corporations. The gross national product rose 10% in the first year of the tax cut, and economic growth averaged a rate of 4.5% from 1961 to 1968.[7]

GNP increased by 7% in 1964, 8% in 1965, and 9% in 1966. The unemployment rate fell below 5%, and by 1966 the number of families with incomes of $7,000 a year or more had reached 55%, compared with 22% in 1950. In 1968, when John Kenneth Galbraith published a new edition of The Affluent Society, the average income of the American family stood at $8,000, double what it had been a decade earlier.[8]

Johnson's speeches in Ohio and Michigan[edit]

Johnson's first public reference to the "Great Society" took place during a speech to students on May 7, 1964, on Ohio University's historic College Green in Athens, Ohio:

And with your courage and with your compassion and your desire, we will build a Great Society. It is a society where no child will go unfed, and no youngster will go unschooled.[9]

He later formally presented his specific goals for the Great Society in another speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on May 22, 1964.

We are going to assemble the best thought and broadest knowledge from all over the world to find these answers. I intend to establish working groups to prepare a series of conferences and meetings—on the cities, on natural beauty, on the quality of education, and on other emerging challenges. From these studies, we will begin to set our course toward the Great Society.[10]

Presidential task forces[edit]

Almost immediately after the Ann Arbor speech, 14 separate task forces began studying nearly all major aspects of United States society under the guidance of presidential assistants Bill Moyers and Richard N. Goodwin.[11] In his use of task forces to provide expert advice on policy, Johnson was following Kennedy's example, but unlike Kennedy, Johnson directed his task forces to work in secret.[11] His intent was to prevent his program from being derailed by public criticism of proposals that had not yet been reviewed.[12] The average task force had five to seven members and generally was composed of governmental experts and academics.[13]

After the task force reports were submitted to the White House, Moyers began a second round of review. The recommendations were circulated among the agencies concerned, and strategies were developed for getting the proposed legislation through Congress.[14] On January 4, 1965, Johnson announced much of his proposed program in his State of the Union Address.

The election of 1964[edit]

With the exception of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,[15] the Great Society agenda was not a widely discussed issue during the 1964 presidential election campaign. Johnson won the election with 61% of the vote, and he carried all but six states. Democrats gained enough seats to control more than two-thirds of each chamber in the Eighty-ninth Congress, with a 68–32 margin in the Senate and a 295–140 margin in the House of Representatives.[8]

Johnson won a large majority of the Jewish vote, a liberal constituency that gave strong support to the Great Society.[16]

The two sessions of the Eighty-Ninth Congress[edit]

The political realignment allowed House leaders to alter rules that had allowed Southern Democrats to kill New Frontier and civil rights legislation in committee, which aided efforts to pass Great Society legislation. In 1965, the first session of the Eighty-Ninth Congress created the core of the Great Society. It began by enacting long-stalled legislation such as Medicare and federal aid to education and then moved into other areas, including high-speed mass transit, rental supplements, truth in packaging, environmental safety legislation, new provisions for mental health facilities, the Teacher Corps, manpower training, the Head Start program, aid to urban mass transit, a demonstration cities program, a housing act that included rental subsidies, and an act for higher education.[8] The Johnson Administration submitted 87 bills to Congress, and Johnson signed 84, or 96%, arguably the most successful legislative agenda in US congressional history.[17]

The major policy areas[edit]


The Naked Society is a 1964 book on privacy by Vance Packard. The book argues that changes in technology are encroaching on privacy and could create a society in the future with radically different privacy standards. Packard criticized advertisers' unfettered use of private information to create marketing schemes. He compared a recent Great Society initiative by then-president Lyndon B. Johnson, the National Data Bank, to the use of information by advertisers and argued for increased data privacy measures to ensure that information did not find its way into the wrong hands. The essay led Congress to create the Special Subcommittee on the Invasion of Privacy and inspired privacy advocates such as Neil Gallagher and Sam Ervin to fight what they perceived as Johnson's flagrant disregard for consumer privacy. Ervin criticized Johnson's domestic agenda as invasive and claimed that the unfiltered database of consumers' information as a sign of presidential abuse of power. Ervin warned that "The computer never forgets".[18] Jerry M. Rosenberg dedicated a chapter of his 1969 book The Death of Privacy to the National Data Bank.[19]

Civil rights[edit]

President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Historian Alan Brinkley has suggested that the most important domestic achievement of the Great Society may have been its success in translating some of the demands of the civil rights movement into law.[20] Four civil rights acts were passed, including three laws in the first two years of Johnson's presidency. The Civil Rights Act of 1964[15] forbade job discrimination and the segregation of public accommodations.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 assured minority registration and voting. It suspended use of literacy or other voter-qualification tests that had sometimes served to keep African-Americans off voting lists and provided for federal court lawsuits to stop discriminatory poll taxes. It also reinforced the Civil Rights Act of 1964[15] by authorizing the appointment of federal voting examiners in areas that did not meet voter-participation requirements. The Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965 abolished the national-origin quotas in immigration law. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 banned housing discrimination and extended constitutional protections to Native Americans on reservations.

Johnson recognized the benefits and costs of passing civil rights legislation. His support for the 1964 Civil Rights Act was despite his personal opinions on racial matters, as Johnson regularly articulated thoughts and disparaging language against racial minorities, including against African-Americans and Asians.[21] Scholar and biographer Robert Caro suggested that Johnson used racially charged language to appease legislators in an effort to pass civil rights laws, including adapting how he said the word 'negro' based upon where the legislator's district was located.[21]

The "War On Poverty"[edit]

The August 1964 signing of the Poverty Bill

The most ambitious and controversial part of the Great Society was its initiative to end poverty. The Kennedy Administration had been contemplating a federal effort against poverty. Johnson, who, as a teacher, had observed extreme poverty in Texas among Mexican-Americans, launched an "unconditional war on poverty" in the first months of his presidency with the goal of eliminating hunger, illiteracy, and unemployment from American life. The centerpiece of the War on Poverty was the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which created an Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) to oversee a variety of community-based antipoverty programs.

Federal funds were provided for special education schemes in slum areas, including help in paying for books and transport, while financial aid was also provided for slum clearances and rebuilding city areas. In addition, the Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1965 created jobs in one of the most impoverished regions of the country.[citation needed] The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 provided various methods through which young people from poor homes could receive job training and higher education.[22]

The OEO reflected a fragile consensus among policymakers that the best way to deal with poverty was not simply to raise the incomes of the poor but to help them better themselves through education, job training, and community development. Central to its mission was the idea of "community action", the participation of the poor in framing and administering the programs designed to help them.


The War on Poverty began with a $1 billion appropriation in 1964 and spent another $2 billion in the following two years. It gave rise to dozens of programs, among them the Job Corps, whose purpose was to help disadvantaged youth develop marketable skills; the Neighborhood Youth Corps, established to give poor urban youths work experience and to encourage them to stay in school; Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), a domestic version of the Peace Corps, which placed concerned citizens with community-based agencies to work towards empowerment of the poor; the Model Cities Program for urban redevelopment; Upward Bound, which assisted poor high school students entering college; legal services for the poor; and the Food Stamp Act of 1964 (which expanded the federal food stamp program).[23]

Programs included the Community Action Program, which initiated local Community Action Agencies charged with helping the poor become self-sufficient; and Project Head Start, which offered preschool education for poor children. In addition, funding was provided for the establishment of community health centers to expand access to health care,[24] while major amendments were made to Social Security in 1965 and 1967 which significantly increased benefits, expanded coverage, and established new programs to combat poverty and raise living standards.[25] In addition, average AFDC payments were 35% higher in 1968 than in 1960, but remained insufficient and uneven.[26]


The most important educational component of the Great Society was the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, designed by Commissioner of Education Francis Keppel. It was signed into law on April 11, 1965, less than three months after it was introduced. It ended a long-standing political taboo by providing significant federal aid to public education, initially allocating more than $1 billion to help schools purchase materials and start special education programs to schools with a high concentration of low-income children. During its first year of operation, the Act authorized a $1.1 billion program of grants to states, for allocations to school districts with large numbers of children of low-income families, funds to use community facilities for education within the entire community, funds to improve educational research and to strengthen state departments of education, and grants for the purchase of books and library materials.[27] The Act also established Head Start, which had originally been started by the Office of Economic Opportunity as an eight-week summer program, as a permanent program.

The Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963, which was signed into law by Johnson a month after becoming president,[28] authorized several times more college aid within a five-year period than had been appropriated under the Land Grant College in a century. It provided better college libraries, ten to twenty new graduate centers, several new technical institutes, classrooms for several hundred thousand students, and twenty-five to thirty new community colleges a year.[29]

This major piece of legislation was followed by the Higher Education Act of 1965, which increased federal money given to universities, created scholarships and low-interest loans for students, and established a national Teacher Corps to provide teachers to poverty-stricken areas of the United States. The Act also began a transition from federally funded institutional assistance to individual student aid.

In 1964, basic improvements in the National Defense Education Act were achieved, and total funds available to educational institutions were increased. The yearly limit on loans to graduate and professional students was raised from $1,000 to $2,500, and the aggregate limit was raised from $5,000 to $10,000. The program was extended to include geography, history, reading, English, and civics, and guidance and counseling programs were extended to elementary and public junior high schools.[23]

The Bilingual Education Act of 1968 offered federal aid to local school districts in assisting them to address the needs of children with limited English-speaking ability until it expired in 2002.[30]

The Great Society programs also provided support for postgraduate clinical training for both nurses and physicians committed to work with disadvantaged patients in rural and urban health clinics.[31]



President Johnson signs the Social Security Act of 1965.

On August 31, 1964, an amendment to the proposed Social Security Amendments of 1964, which further increased the proposed level of Social Security benefits and added hospital insurance to the program, was passed in the Senate by a vote of 49 to 44. The following day the entire bill passed the Senate by 60 to 28 votes. Following this vote, as noted by one study, “Seeking to ensure that the health insurance proposal emerge from the conference committee as part of the report, the administration flirted with an effort to have the full House of Representatives vote to instruct the conference to yield to the Senate version. Though the health insurance provision appeared to have majority support in the House, the tactic did not, and the idea was dropped. Sure enough, the House conferees voted 3 to 2 against the Senate health provision; the Senate conferees voted 4 to 3 to accept a bill only if Medicare were included.”[32] Medicare finally came about with the Social Security Act of 1965 which authorized Medicare and provided federal funding for many of the medical costs of older Americans.[33] The legislation overcame the bitter resistance, particularly from the American Medical Association, to the idea of publicly funded health care or "socialized medicine" by making its benefits available to everyone over sixty-five, regardless of need, and by linking payments to the existing private insurance system.


In 1966 welfare recipients of all ages received medical care through the Medicaid program. Medicaid was created on July 30, 1965, under Title XIX of the Social Security Act of 1965. Each state administers its own Medicaid program while the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) monitors the state-run programs and establishes requirements for service delivery, quality, funding, and eligibility standards.

Neighborhood health centers[edit]

Under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964's Community Action Program, as noted by one study, "hospitals, medical schools, community groups, and health departments received grants to plan and administer neighbourhood health centers in low-income areas." One hundred neighborhood health centers had been set up under the Economic Opportunity Act by 1971.[34]


A number of changes were made to the Social Security program in terms of both coverage and adequacy of benefits. The Tax Adjustment Act of 1966 included a provision for special payments under the social security program to certain uninsured individuals aged 72 and over. The Social Security Amendments of 1965 included a 7% increase in cash benefits, a liberalization of the definition of disability, a liberalization of the amount a person can earn and still get full benefits (the so-called retirement test), payment of benefits to eligible children aged 18–21 who are attending school, payment of benefits to widows at age 60 on an actuarially reduced basis, coverage of self-employed physicians, coverage of tips as wages, liberalization of insured-status requirements for persons already aged 72 or over, an increase to $6,600 the amount of earnings counted for contribution and benefit purposes (the contribution and benefit base), and an increase in the contribution rate schedule.[25]

The Social Security Amendments of 1967 included a 13% increase in old-age, survivors, and disability insurance benefits, with a minimum monthly benefit of $55 for a person retiring at or after age-65 (or receiving disability benefits), an increase from $35 to $40 in the special age-72 payments, an increase from $1,500 to $1,680 in the amount a person may earn in a year and still get full benefits for that year, monthly cash benefits for disabled widows and disabled dependent widowers at age 50 at reduced rates, a liberalization of the eligibility requirements for benefits for dependents and Survivors of women workers, and an alternative insured-status test for workers disabled before age 31.[25]

Additionally, new guidelines for determining eligibility for disability insurance benefits, additional non-contributory wage credits for servicemen, broadened coverage of clergy and members of religious orders who have not taken a vow of poverty, and an increase in the contribution and benefit base from $6,600 to $7,800, beginning in 1968. In addition, the Social Security Amendments of 1967 provided the first major amendments of Medicare. These social security amendments extended the coverage of the program to include certain services previously excluded, simplified reimbursement procedures under both the hospital and medical insurance plans, and facilitated the administrative procedures concerning general enrollment periods.[25]

The Food Stamp Act of 1964 made the program permanent, while the Social Security Amendments of 1967 specified that at least 6% of monies for maternal and child health should be spent on family planning. By 1967, the federal government began requiring state health departments to make contraceptives available to all adults who were poor. Meal programs for low-income senior citizens began in 1965, with the federal government providing funding for "congregate meals" and "home-delivered meals."[35] The Child Nutrition Act, passed in 1966, made improvements to nutritional assistance to children such as in the introduction of the School Breakfast Program.[36]

The arts and cultural institutions[edit]

Johnson promoted the arts in terms of social betterment, not artistic creativity. He typically emphasized qualitative and quantitative goals, especially the power of the arts to improve the quality of life of ordinary Americans and to reduce the inequalities between the haves and the have-nots. Karen Patricia Heath observes that, "Johnson personally was not much interested in the acquisition of knowledge, cultural or otherwise, for its own sake, nor did he have time for art appreciation or meeting with artists."[37]

National Endowments for the arts and the humanities[edit]

In September 1965, Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act into law, creating both the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities as separate, independent agencies. Lobbying for federally funded arts and humanities support began during the Kennedy Administration. In 1963 three scholarly and educational organizations—the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Council of Graduate Schools in America, and the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa—joined to establish the National Commission on the Humanities. In June 1964, the commission released a report that suggested that the emphasis placed on science endangered the study of the humanities from elementary schools through postgraduate programs. In order to correct the balance, it recommended "the establishment by the President and the Congress of the United States of a National Humanities Foundation."[38]

In August 1964, Representative William S. Moorhead of Pennsylvania proposed legislation to implement the commission's recommendations. Support from the White House followed in September, when Johnson lent his endorsement during a speech at Brown University. In March 1965, the White House proposed the establishment of a National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities and requested $20 million in start-up funds. The commission's report had generated other proposals, but the White House's approach eclipsed them. The administration's plan, which called for the creation of two separate agencies each advised by a governing body, was the version that the Congress approved. Richard Nixon dramatically expanded funding for NEH and NEA.[38]

Public broadcasting[edit]

After the First National Conference on Long-Range Financing of Educational Television Stations in December 1964 called for a study of the role of noncommercial education television in society, the Carnegie Corporation agreed to finance the work of a 15-member national commission. Its landmark report, Public Television: A Program for Action, published on January 26, 1967, popularized the phrase "public television" and assisted the legislative campaign for federal aid. The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, enacted less than 10 months later, chartered the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as a private, non-profit corporation.[citation needed]

The law initiated federal aid through the CPB for the operation, as opposed to the funding of capital facilities, of public broadcasting. The CPB initially collaborated with the pre-existing National Educational Television system, but in 1969 decided to start the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). A public radio study commissioned by the CPB and the Ford Foundation and conducted from 1968 to 1969 led to the establishment of National Public Radio, a public radio system under the terms of the amended Public Broadcasting Act.[citation needed]

Cultural centers[edit]

Two long-planned national cultural and arts facilities received federal funding that would allow for their completion through Great Society legislation. A National Cultural Center, suggested during the Franklin Roosevelt Administration and created by a bipartisan law signed by Dwight Eisenhower, was transformed into the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a living memorial to the assassinated president. Fundraising for the original cultural center had been poor prior to legislation creating the Kennedy Center, which passed two months after the president's death and provided $23 million for construction. The Kennedy Center opened in 1971.[39]

In the late 1930s the U.S. Congress mandated a Smithsonian Institution art museum for the National Mall, and a design by Eliel Saarinen was unveiled in 1939, but plans were shelved during World War II. A 1966 act of the U.S. Congress established the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden as part of the Smithsonian Institution with a focus on modern art, in contrast to the existing National Art Gallery. The museum was primarily federally funded, although New York financier Joseph Hirshhorn later contributed $1 million toward building construction, which began in 1969. The Hirshhorn opened in 1974.[40]


Transportation initiatives started during President Johnson's term in office included the consolidation of transportation agencies into a cabinet-level position under the Department of Transportation.[41] The department was authorized by Congress on October 15, 1966, and began operations on April 1, 1967. Congress passed a variety of legislation to support improvements in transportation including The Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964 which provided $375 million for large-scale urban public or private rail projects in the form of matching funds to cities and states and created the Urban Mass Transit Administration (now the Federal Transit Administration), High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965 which resulted in the creation of high-speed rail between New York and Washington, and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966—a bill largely taken credit for by Ralph Nader, whose book Unsafe at Any Speed he claims helped inspire the legislation.

Consumer protection[edit]

In 1964, Johnson named Assistant Secretary of Labor Esther Peterson to be the first presidential assistant for consumer affairs.

The Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965 required packages to carry warning labels. The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 set standards through creation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act requires products identify manufacturer, address, clearly mark quantity and servings. The statute also authorized the HEW and the FTC to establish and define voluntary standard sizes. The original would have mandated uniform standards of size and weight for comparison shopping, but the final law only outlawed exaggerated size claims.

The Child Safety Act of 1966 prohibited any chemical so dangerous that no warning can make it safe. The Flammable Fabrics Act of 1967 set standards for children's sleepwear, but not baby blankets.[citation needed]

The Wholesome Meat Act of 1967 required inspection of meat which must meet federal standards. The Truth-in-Lending Act of 1968 required lenders and credit providers to disclose the full cost of finance charges in both dollars and annual percentage rates, on installment loan and sales. The Wholesome Poultry Products Act of 1968 required inspection of poultry which must meet federal standards. The Land Sales Disclosure Act of 1968 provided safeguards against fraudulent practices in the sale of land. The Radiation Safety Act of 1968 provided standards and recalls for defective electronic products.[citation needed]


Joseph A. Califano Jr. has suggested that the Great Society's main contribution to the environment was an extension of protections beyond those aimed at the conservation of untouched resources.[42] In a message he transmitted to Congress, President Johnson said:

The air we breathe, our water, our soil and wildlife, are being blighted by poisons and chemicals which are the by-products of technology and industry. The society that receives the rewards of technology, must, as a cooperating whole, take responsibility for [their] control. To deal with these new problems will require a new conservation. We must not only protect the countryside and save it from destruction, we must restore what has been destroyed and salvage the beauty and charm of our cities. Our conservation must be not just the classic conservation of protection [against] development, but a creative conservation of restoration and innovation.

— Special Message to the Congress on Conservation and Restoration of Natural Beauty; February 8, 1965[43]

At the behest of Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, the Great Society included several new environmental laws to protect air and water. Environmental legislation enacted included:


Under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 loans were authorized “to low income farm families for small farm improvements and nonfarm enterprises that would add to family income.”[44] That same year the quality of the housing program was improved by requiring minimum standards of code enforcement, providing assistance to dislocated families and small businesses and authorizing below market interest loans for rehabilitating housing in urban renewal areas.[23][45] Housing Act 1964 [46][47] In 1965, the rural housing program was converted to one largely funded on an insured-loan basis, which opened the way “for a great increase in volume of the program and expanded the loan program for rural waste systems to a loan and grant program for water and waste disposal systems, raising the maximum population of rural towns served to 5,500 and maximum financing per project to $4 million. In addition, the annual ceiling on insured loans for community facilities and farm ownership was increased from $200 million to $450 million. New housing legislation in 1966 removed a 62-year age minimum “on tenants of low income rural rent housing financed through the agency, and on borrowers obtaining individual housing loans on the basis of cosigners. It also authorized FmHa to finance purchase of newly-constructed homes.”[44]

The Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965 included important elements such as rent subsidies for low-income families, rehabilitation grants to enable low-income homeowners in urban renewal areas to improve their homes instead of relocating elsewhere, and improved and extended benefits for relocation payments.[27] The Demonstration Cities Act of 1966 established a new program for comprehensive neighborhood renewal, with an emphasis on strategic investments in housing renovation, urban services, neighborhood facilities, and job creation activities.[48][49]

Rural development[edit]

A number of measures were introduced to improve socio-economic conditions in rural areas. Under Title III of the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, Special Programs to Combat Rural Poverty, the Office for Economic Opportunity was authorized to act as a lender of last resort for rural families who needed money to help them permanently increase their earning capacity. Loans could be made to purchase land, improve the operation of family farms, allow participation in cooperative ventures, and finance non-agricultural business enterprises, while local cooperatives which served low-income rural families could apply for another category of loans for similar purposes.[50]

Title III also made loans and grants available to local groups to improve housing, education, and child care services for migrant farm workers, while Titles I and II also included potentially important programs for rural development. Title I established the Job Corps which enrolled school dropouts in community service projects: 40% of the corpsmen were to work in a Youth Conservation Corps to carry out resource conservation, beautification, and development projects in the National Forests and countryside. Arguably more important for rural areas were the Community Action Programs authorized by Title II. Federal money was allocated to States according to their needs for job training, housing, health, and welfare assistance, and the States were then to distribute their shares of the Community Action grants on the basis of proposals from local public or non-profit private groups.[50]

The Public Works and Economic Development Act of 1965 reorganized the Areas Redevelopment Administration (ARA) into the Economic Development Administration (EDA), and authorized $3.3 billion over 5 years while specifying seven criteria for eligibility. The list included low median family income, but the 6% or higher unemployment applied to the greatest number of areas, while the Act also mentioned outmigration from rural areas as a criterion. In an attempt to go beyond what one writer described as "ARA's failed scattershot approach" of providing aid to individual counties and inspired by the European model of regional development, the EDA encouraged counties to form Economic Development Districts (EDDs) as it was recognized that individual distressed counties (called RAs or Redevelopment Areas) lacked sufficient resources for their own development.[50]

EDDs encompassed from 5 to 15 counties and both planned and implemented development with EDA funding and technical assistance, and each EDD had a "growth center" (another concept borrowed from Europe) called a redevelopment center if it was located in an RA or development center if in another county. With the exception of the growth centers, EDD counties were ineligible for assistance unless they were RAs, but they were all expected to benefit from "coordinated districtwide development planning."[50]


A number of measures concerning labor were also introduced during Johnson's presidency.[51][52][53][54] Amendments made to the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act in 1964 extended the prevailing wage provisions to cover fringe benefits,[55] while several increases were made to the federal minimum wage.[56] The Service Contract Act of 1965 provided for minimum wages and fringe benefits as well as other conditions of work for contractors under certain types of service contracts.[57] A comprehensive minimum rate hike was also signed into law that extended the coverage of the Fair Labor Standards Act to about 9.1 million additional workers.[55]

Conservative opposition[edit]

In the 1966 midterm elections, the Republicans made major gains in part through a challenge to the "War on Poverty." Large-scale civic unrest in the inner-city was escalating (reaching a climax in 1968), strengthened demand for Law and order.[58] Urban white ethnics who had been an important part of the New Deal Coalition felt abandoned by the Democratic Party's concentration on racial minorities. Republican candidates ignored more popular programs, such as Medicare or the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and focused their attacks on less popular programs. Furthermore, Republicans made an effort to avoid the stigma of negativism and elitism that had dogged them since the days of the New Deal, and instead proposed well-crafted alternatives—such as their "Opportunity Crusade."[59] The result was a major gain of 47 House seats for the GOP in the 1966 United States House of Representatives elections that put the conservative coalition of Republicans and Southern Democrats back in business.[60]

Despite conservatives who attacked Johnson's Great Society making major gains in Congress in the 1966 midterm elections, and with anger and frustration mounting over the Vietnam War, Johnson was still able to secure the passage of additional programs during his last two years in office. Laws were passed to extend the Food Stamp Program, to expand consumer protection, to improve safety standards, to train health professionals, to assist handicapped Americans, and to further urban programs.[61]

In 1968, a new Fair Housing Act was passed, which banned racial discrimination in housing[62] and subsidized the construction or rehabilitation of low-income housing units.[63] That same year, a new program for federally funded job retraining for the hardcore unemployed in fifty cities was introduced, together with the strongest federal gun control bill (relating to the transportation of guns across state lines) in American history up until that point.[64]

By the end of the Johnson Administration, 226 out of 252 major legislative requests (over a four-year period) had been met, federal aid to the poor had risen from $9.9 billion in 1960 to $30 billion by 1968, one million Americans had been retrained under previously non-existent federal programs, and two million children had participated in the Head Start program.


Interpretations of the War on Poverty remain controversial. The Office of Economic Opportunity was dismantled by the Nixon and Ford administrations, largely by transferring poverty programs to other government departments.[65] Funding for many of these programs was further cut in President Ronald Reagan's Gramm-Latta Budget in 1981.[citation needed]

Alan Brinkley has suggested that "the gap between the expansive intentions of the War on Poverty and its relatively modest achievements fueled later conservative arguments that government is not an appropriate vehicle for solving social problems."[20] One of Johnson's aides, Joseph A. Califano Jr., has countered that "from 1963 when Lyndon Johnson took office until 1970 as the impact of his Great Society programs were felt, the portion of Americans living below the poverty line dropped from 22.2 percent to 12.6 percent, the most dramatic decline over such a brief period in this century."[42]

In the long run, statistical analysis shows that the Official Poverty Rate fell from 19.5 percent in 1963 to 12.3 percent in 2017. However, using a broader definition that includes cash income, taxes, and major in-kind transfers and inflation rates, the "Full-income Poverty Rate" based on President Johnson's standards fell from 19.5 percent to 2.3 percent over that period.[66][67]

The percentage of African Americans below the poverty line dropped from 55 percent in 1960 to 27 percent in 1968.[68] From 1964 to 1967, federal expenditures on education rose from $4 billion to $12 billion, while spending on health rose from $5 billion to $16 billion. By that time, the federal government was spending $4,000 per annum on each poor family of four, four times as much as in 1961.[69]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson visits Ohio University, film, May 7, 1964". Retrieved 2021-01-26.
  2. ^ Caves, R. W. (2004). Encyclopedia of the City. Routledge. p. 315.
  3. ^ a b Zelizer, Julian E. (2015). The fierce urgency of now : Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the battle for the Great Society. New York. ISBN 978-1-59420-434-0. OCLC 881094066.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  4. ^ Life, November 5, 1965
  5. ^ Nation's Business A Useful Look Ahead January 1966 Vol. 54 No. 1, P.73
  6. ^ Riley, Jason L. (2008). Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders. Gotham Books. p. 98. ISBN 9781592403493.
  7. ^ Revenue Act of 1964
  8. ^ a b c Chafe, William H. The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II
  9. ^ "President Johnson's speech at Ohio University, May 7, 1964". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved July 28, 2015.
  10. ^ "President Johnson's speech at the University of Michigan from the LBJ Library". Archived from the original on June 2, 2002. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  11. ^ a b Woods, Randall (2007). LBJ: Architect of American Ambition. Simon and Schuster. p. 557. ISBN 1416593314.
  12. ^ Smith, Nancy Kegan (1985). "Presidential Task Force Operation during the Johnson Administration". Presidential Studies Quarterly. 15 (2): 320–329. JSTOR 27550209.
  13. ^ Task Force Reports of the Johnson White House, 1963–1969 (PDF). LexisNexis. 2009. ISBN 978-0-88692-654-0. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 October 2016.[page needed]
  14. ^ Baugess, James S.; DeBolt, Abbe Allen (2011). Encyclopedia of the Sixties: A Decade of Culture and Counterculture. ABC-CLIO. p. 261. ISBN 978-0-313-32944-9.
  15. ^ a b c "Civil Rights Act of 1964". Archived from the original on October 21, 2010. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  16. ^ Dollinger, Marc (December 2001). "The other War: American Jews, Lyndon Johnson, and the Great Society". American Jewish History. 89 (4): 437–463. doi:10.1353/ajh.2001.0062. S2CID 154781969. Gale A92805458.
  17. ^ Unger, Irwin (1996). The Best of Intentions: The Triumphs and Failures of the Great Society Under Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. Doubleday. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-385-46833-6.
  18. ^ O'Mara, Margaret (5 December 2018). "The End of Privacy Began in the 1960s". The New York Times.
  19. ^ Igo, Sarah E. (2018-05-07). The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674985193.
  20. ^ a b Alan Brinkley, "Great Society" in The Reader's Companion to American History, Eric Foner and John Arthur Garraty eds., ISBN 0-395-51372-3, Houghton Mifflin Books, p. 472
  21. ^ a b Serwer, Adam (11 April 2014). "Lyndon Johnson was a civil rights hero. But also a racist".
  22. ^ Lowe, Norman. Mastering Modern World History.
  23. ^ a b c "Voting Record-88th Congress, 2nd Session" (PDF). ADA World. Americans for Democratic Action. October 1964. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  24. ^ Rachman, Fred D. (August 28, 2010). "Quality Measures Workgroup Testimony" (PDF). Alliance of Chicago Community Health Services. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 21, 2012. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  25. ^ a b c d "History of SSA During the Johnson Administration 1963–1968". Social Security Administration. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  26. ^ Backlash against welfare mothers: past and present by Ellen Reese
  27. ^ a b "Voting Record-89th Congress, 1st Session" (PDF). ADA World. Americans for Democratic Action. November 1965. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  28. ^ Lyndon B. Johnson: Remarks Upon Signing the Higher Education Facilities Act. (December 16, 1963). Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  29. ^ Kennedy by Theodore C. Sorensen
  30. ^ The Bilingual Education Act Archived 2006-08-07 at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ Fairman, Julie (August 2009). Making Room in the Clinic: Nurse Practitioners and the Evolution of Modern ... Rutgers University Press. ISBN 9780813545028. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  32. ^ The Battle for Social Security From FDR's Vision To Bush's Gamble By Nancy J. Altman, 2012
  33. ^ "Social Security Act Amendments (1965)". Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  34. ^ Encyclopedia of Health Services Research: Ed. by Ross M. Mullner edited by Ross M. Mullner, P.201
  35. ^ Sreenivasan, Jyotsna (2009). Poverty and the Government in America. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 9781598841688.
  36. ^ "Child Nutrition Act of 1966 - Food and Nutrition Service". Archived from the original on 2013-08-13. Retrieved 2013-09-03.
  37. ^ Heath, Karen Patricia (1 March 2017). "Artistic scarcity in an age of material abundance: President Lyndon Johnson, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Great Society liberalism". European Journal of American Culture. 36 (1): 5–22. doi:10.1386/ejac.36.1.5_1. S2CID 164923622.
  38. ^ a b "How NEH got its start". National Endowment for the Humanities. September 29, 1965. Archived from the original on March 5, 2012. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  39. ^ "Living Legacy: Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts". WOSU. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  40. ^ "The Hirshhorn Story". Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Archived from the original on July 2, 2007.
  41. ^ Grinder, R. Dale. "The United States Department of Transportation: A Brief History". U.S. Department of Transportation. Archived from the original on July 17, 2004.
  42. ^ a b What Was Really Great About The Great Society: The truth behind the conservative myths Archived 2014-03-26 at the Wayback Machine by Joseph A. Califano Jr.
  43. ^ Johnson, Lyndon B. (8 February 1965). "Special Message to the Congress on Conservation and Restoration of Natural Beauty". The American Presidency Project.
  44. ^ a b Information for Farmers Home Administration County Committees 1982, P.24
  45. ^ Remarks Upon Signing the Housing Act September 02, 1964
  46. ^ PUBLIC LAW 88-560-SEPT. 2, 1964
  47. ^ Housing Act Expands Existing Programs An article from CQ Almanac 1964
  48. ^ Galster, George C. (1996). Reality and Research: Social Science and U.S. Urban Policy Since 1960. The Urban Institute. ISBN 9780877666394. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  49. ^ Conley, Richard Steven (2002). The Presidency, Congress, and Divided Government: A Postwar Assessment. Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 9781603446815. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  50. ^ a b c d Roth, Dennis. "The Johnson Administration and the Great Society" (PDF). Federal Rural Development Policy in the Twentieth Century. United States Department of Agriculture. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 24, 2014. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  51. ^ Annual digest of state and federal labor legislation 1963
  52. ^ Annual digest of state and federal labor legislation 1964
  53. ^ Annual digest of state and federal labor legislation 1965-1966
  54. ^ Annual digest of state and federal labor legislation 1967
  55. ^ a b Bruno, Robert (January 3–5, 1998). "Presidential Labor Regimes: Democrats from Roosevelt to Clinton" (PDF). University of Illinois. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 21, 2013. Retrieved August 26, 2013. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  56. ^ Gitterman, Daniel P. (2010). Boosting Paychecks: The Politics of Supporting America's Working Poor. Brookings Institution Press. ISBN 978-0-8157-0458-4.[page needed]
  57. ^ Boyd, Bob (August 2012). The COR/COTR Answer Book, Thi - Bob Boyd. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. ISBN 9781567263732. Retrieved August 26, 2013.
  58. ^ Flamm, Michael W. (2005). Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-50972-5.[page needed]
  59. ^ McLay, Mark (2019). "A High-Wire Crusade: Republicans and the War on Poverty, 1966" (PDF). Journal of Policy History. 31 (3): 382–405. doi:10.1017/S0898030619000125. S2CID 197823008. Project MUSE 728522 ProQuest 2239162451.
  60. ^ "1966 Elections–A Major Republican Comeback." in CQ Almanac 1966 (22nd ed., 1967) pp 1387-88. online
  61. ^ M.J. Heale, The Sixties in America: History, Politics, and Protest (2001)
  62. ^ The Housing status of black Americans By James Benjamin Stewart
  63. ^ The Penguin Encyclopedia of American History by Robert A. Rosenbaum and Douglas Brinkley
  64. ^ Mooney, Peter J.; Bown, Colin (1979). Truman to Carter: A Post-war History of the United States of America. E. Arnold. ISBN 978-0-7131-0326-7.[page needed]
  65. ^ Bailey, Martha J.; Duquette, Nicolas J. (June 2014). "How Johnson Fought the War on Poverty: The Economics and Politics of Funding at the Office of Economic Opportunity". The Journal of Economic History. 74 (2): 351–388. doi:10.1017/s0022050714000291. PMC 4266933. PMID 25525279.
  66. ^ Burkhauser, Richard V.; Corinth, Kevin; Elwell, James; Larrimore, Jeff (December 2019). "Evaluating the Success of President Johnson's War on Poverty: Revisiting the Historical Record Using a Full-Income Poverty Measure" (PDF). American Enterprise Institute. doi:10.3386/w26532. S2CID 201338597. SSRN 3877009. Gale A612580996. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  67. ^ Riggs, Thomas, ed. (2015). "This graph shows the U.S. poverty rate from 1960 through 2012. President Lyndon Johnsons 'war on...". Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. Gale In Context: Biography. Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). Gale.
  68. ^ Mintz, S (2007). "The Great Society and the Drive for Black Equality". Digital History. University of Houston. Archived from the original on January 16, 2009. Retrieved May 13, 2009.
  69. ^ Woods, Randall (2007). LBJ: Architect of American Ambition. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4165-9331-7.[page needed]

Further reading[edit]

  • Andrew, John A.. Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society. I.R. Dee, (1998) ISBN 1-56663-184-X
  • Ginzberg, Eli and Robert M. Solow (eds.) The Great Society: Lessons for the Future ISBN 0-465-02705-9 (1974), 11 chapters on each program
  • Gordon, Kermit (ed.) Agenda for the Nation, The Brookings Institution. (1968)
  • Helsing, Jeffrey W. Johnson's War/Johnson's Great Society: the guns and butter trap Praeger Greenwood (2000) ISBN 0-275-96449-3
  • Jordan, Barbara C. and Elspeth D. Rostow (editors) The Great Society: a twenty year critique: Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs (1986) ISBN 0-89940-417-0
  • Kaplan, Marshall, and Peggy L. Cuciti; The Great Society and Its Legacy: Twenty Years of U.S. Social Policy Duke University Press, (1986) ISBN 0-8223-0589-5
  • Milkis, Sidney M. and Jerome M. Mileur, eds. The Great Society And The High Tide Of Liberalism (2005)
  • Shlaes, Amity Great Society: A New History Harper, (2019) ISBN 978-0061706424
  • Unger, Irwin (1996). The Best of Intentions: The Triumphs and Failures of the Great Society Under Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-46833-6.
  • Woods, Randall B. Prisoners of Hope: Lyndon B. Johnson, the Great Society, and the Limits of Liberalism (2016), 480pp., a scholarly history.
  • Zarefsky, David. President Johnson's War on Poverty (1986).
  • Zeitz, Joshua (2019). Building the Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson's White House. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-311143-6.
  • Zelizer, Julian E. (2015). The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society. Penguin. ISBN 978-1-101-60549-3.

Primary sources[edit]

External links[edit]