The War on Poverty: The
Economic Opportunity Act of
Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty is the most famous episode in American welfare policy. Its failure critically undermined the country's support for future large-scale welfare programs. The War on Poverty was waged via the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) of 1964, which created a number of new programs designed to attack destitution in America. The Act also created the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) to supervise these and other antipoverty initiatives. The director of the OEO was to be America's “poverty czar,” charged with overseeing the elimination of poverty in the United States. The OEO, the czar, and indeed many of the programs contained in the Act have all since disappeared. But the legacy of the War on Poverty has structured the American debate on social welfare until the present day.
The 1960s was a decade of ferment. The civil rights movement, the student movement, and the antiwar movement were but the major examples of a society engaged in a profound examination of itself. But it was also a decade a vaulting ambition. President Kennedy opened the 60s by announcing the United States would place a man on the moon within 10 years. The attack on poverty, initially given a 10-year timetable as well, combined America's self-reflection with its sense of almost limitless power.
The Public Welfare Amendments of 1962 were among the first products of this critical self-examination. Worries over rising juvenile delinquency, and the rediscovery of the existence of widespread poverty in America, had driven their enactment. But, while the 1962 amendments had signaled a decisive shift in America's