What was LBJ’s “Great Society”? What is its connection to the “welfare” system?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” was a set of programs that he proposed to improve (as he saw it) American society in numerous ways.  Johnson became president in November of 1963 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  Within his first year in office, he had gotten Congress to pass a few “Great Society” programs.  A year later, he was elected in his own right by a landslide margin, largely because most Americans believed that his opponent, Barry Goldwater, was much too conservative. After he was elected, Johnson felt that he had a mandate to push for more Great Society programs.  This set of programs was very extensive.  As this link tells us, the most important parts of the program had to do with

bringing aid to underprivileged Americans, regulating natural resources, and protecting American consumers.

However, there was much more to the Great Society.  In addition to the major aspects, the program also included

the profoundly influential Immigration Act, bills establishing a National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, a Highway Safety Act, (and) the Public Broadcasting Act.

Clearly, the Great Society was a very broad set of programs that aimed to improve (in Johnson’s view) many aspects of American society.

As the first quote above tells us, one of the major parts of the Great Society was programs to help underprivileged Americans.  This is where it is connected to the “welfare” system.  Broadly speaking, the welfare system is a system of programs that is meant to help poor Americans.  Johnson’s Great Society greatly expanded the number of programs that were meant to do this.  In addition, the Great Society (and the War on Poverty, which was a part of it) made more Americans believe that the federal government would and should make sure that poor people had a decent standard of living. Therefore, we can say that the Great Society is connected to the welfare system because it created or expanded many of the programs that we associate with welfare and made more people expect that the government would take care of the poor.