The 1960’s were a time of immense social change that affected living conditions in the United States. As far as politics and legislation is concerned, the Lyndon Johnson administration and his vision of the “Great Society” were the driving force behind most of this political change.
Much of the most important changes occurred in the civil rights area. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made job discrimination and many forms of segregation illegal. The subsequent Civil Rights Act of 1968 made discrimination in housing illegal. These laws helped insure that living conditions improved in terms of at least beginning to put an end to discrimination. When Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 he said:
We believe that all men are created equal, yet many are denied equal treatment. We believe that all men have certain unalienable rights, yet many Americans do not enjoy those rights. We believe that all men are entitled to the blessings of liberty, yet millions are being deprived of those blessings, not because of their own failures, but because of the color of the skin.
Johnson also engaged in a war on poverty with the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. This act sought to help the poor by giving them the opportunity to access education and employment training. Other programs such as VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), Head Start, Upward Bound, The Food Stamp Act of 1964, and the Community Action Program were also initiated to help poor citizens find better opportunities. In his State of the Union address in 1964, Johnson said:
This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort . . . our joint Federal-local effort must pursue poverty, pursue it wherever it exists-in city slums and small towns, in sharecropper shacks or in migrant worker camps, on Indian Reservations, among whites as well as Negroes, among the young as well as the aged, in the boom towns and in the depressed areas.
Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it. No single piece of legislation, however, is going to suffice.
While there is no doubt that the living conditions of some underprivileged citizens were helped by these programs, the debate continues today as to whether or not they were worth the cost in the long run.