What was the significance of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The major significance of the War on Poverty that everyone can agree on is that it represented a major step forward in the federal government's attempts to create a safety net for poor people in the United States.

Beyond that, the significance is more of a partisan issue.  Liberals seem the War on Poverty as an important set of programs because they argue that it reduced the degree to which poverty is a problem in the US.  However, conservatives believe that it was a very bad thing.  They feel that it helped to create what they see as our excessively large government and our current deficit/debt problems.  They also believe (as argued by Charles Murray in Losing Ground) that programs such as those of the War on Poverty created incentives for the poor to stay poor and dependent on the government.

The significance of the War on Poverty, then, is the subject of debate between conservatives and liberals.


thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

President Lyndon Johnson’s administration passed several reforms and one that directly relates to the War on Poverty was the Civil Rights Act. The implementation of the Civil Rights Act was seriously impeded by the ideologies especially in the South which saw racial upheavals occur in the urban North. The administration recognized the need to deal with poverty which was one of the major underlying problems. Although the Social Security Act of 1935 was still in effect it left out the minority groups by not recognizing certain employment categories, it also had no guarantees on health or employment. The importance of the War on Poverty was best exemplified by the President’s statement that the purpose of the “War” was not to give the impoverished something for nothing but get them to a position that they can take up opportunities and help themselves by catering to their own needs.

gsenviro | Student

The War on Poverty refers to a set of initiatives launched by the federal government under the presidency of Lyndon Johnson to fight poverty and to eliminate it (not just reduce it). A number of measures, such as the Social Security Amendment (which created Medicare and MedicAid), the Food Stamps Act, the Economic Opportunity Act and the Elementary & Secondary Education Act were initiated.

The main significance of this War on Poverty was the actual reduction in the poverty rate and the fact that the program actually kept a lot of poor people alive by providing them with food stamps. A comparison of poverty rates between 1967 and 2012 revealed that poverty was reduced to the lowest levels due to these programs.

Another important aspect is the longevity of some of these programs. Even though a lot of people criticized these programs, some of these have survived the test of time, including Medicare and MedicAid. This shows the success of these programs.