In his State of the Union address on January 7, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson confidently talked about the “beginning of the road to the Great Society...” To achieve his vision of a Great Society LBJ passed numerous legislation between 1963-1968 creating new programs in relation to Health and Welfare (Medicare and Medicaid), Education, Environmental and Consumer Protection. New Housing Programs and the Office of Economic Opportunity were established to fight the "War on Poverty".
Facts about Great Society
In the 1950's and 1960's, America experienced an economic boom. The U.S. economy was strong and optimism was high for the future with many believing that the economy would stay strong indefinitely and that poverty could be significantly reduced.
Many Americans were living in the new affluent society as memories of the postwar Depression, WW2 and the Korean War began to fade. The population boomed (see the Baby Boomers) and many Americans enjoyed a lifestyle and new standard of living that had never been seen before.
But it was a nation of the "haves" and the "have nots". The new, postwar, affluent society had created new lives in the suburbs, supported by white collar jobs. But many people living in the deteriorating cities lived in poverty with poor housing, poor education, pollution and rising crime.
President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed Congress and declared an "unconditional War on Poverty in America" and his ideas for a the Great Society
President Johnson admired the New Deal programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and wanted to implement a similar types of plans, on a similar large scale. Lyndon B. Johnson was a highly experienced and accomplished legislator and used his forceful personality, and his connections in Congress, to pass his numerous programs aimed at fighting his 'War on Poverty' in America and building the Great Society.
Between 1963 and 1968, LBJ's plans for a "Great Society" included new legislation and programs to help Americans living in poverty in the areas of New Housing Programs, Education, Environmental and Consumer Protection and Health and Welfare programs which would include Medicare and Medicaid providing care for the elderly under social security.
New Laws: LBJ finished the work started by President Kennedy by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that had highlighted the inequalities in American society and the plight of the poor. This law created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The Voting Rights Act of 1965, prompted by the Selma March, followed.
New the Great Society Laws: The 1968 Civil Rights Act banned discrimination in housing and granted constitutional protection to Native Americans living on reservations
New Great Society Education Laws: The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was a civil rights law and provided major funding for American public schools. Later in 1965, President Johnson launched the Higher Education Act opening up college to more students through scholarships and low-income loans. The Higher Education Act also established a national teacher corps, the homeland equivalent to the Peace Corps.
New Heath and Welfare Laws: On July 30, 1965, LBJ signed an amendment to the 1935 Social Security Act to address the issue of medical benefits. The amendment provided a hospital insurance program for the elderly, creating the Medicaid and Medicare, health insurance programs for the elderly and low-income families. By 1966 about 19 million elderly people were enrolled in Medicare.
Medicare was established in 1965 as a comprehensive health insurance program for all elderly citizens, that was financed through the Social Security system.
Medicaid, funded by federal and state governments, was established in 1965 to complement Medicare providing health and medical aid to low-income families.
The 1966 Child Nutrition Act expanded the school lunch program and established a school breakfast program and a milk program to improve the nutrition of poor children.
New the Great Society Environment Laws: LBJ passed several laws relating to the Environment. LBJ signed the Air Quality Act on November 21, 1967, which granted the government increased authority to control air pollution.
New Laws: The Wilderness Act preserved 9.2 million acres as federal wilderness areas and the National Trails System Act created a nationwide system of scenic and recreational trails. The Endangered Species Act provided threatened animals with limited protection.
New Laws: The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act established a national system to protect and preserve rivers. The Water Quality Act required states to establish and enforce water quality standards.
The 1966 Highway Safety Act (1966) supported highway safety by improving federal, state, and local coordination and by creating training standards for emergency medical technicians.
New the Great Society Consumer Protection Laws: A variety of consumer protection laws were also passed and the Consumer Product Safety Commission was created, together with the Child Safety Act and the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act.
The 1966 Fair Packaging and Labeling Act required all consumer products to have true and informative labels.
The 1965 Immigration Act was passed abolishing the national origins formula that had been in place since 1924, resulted in preference was no longer given to immigrants from some European countries.
The Omnibus Housing Bill of 1965 was a $7.5 billion measure to provide funds to construct low cost housing.
The 1966 Demonstration Cities and Metropolitan Development Act provided federal money to revitalize and rebuild crumbling urban areas.
The Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965 expanded funding for existing federal housing programs, providing assistance in housing for the disabled and the elderly and for the development of the Nation’s communities.
The 1964 Economic Opportunity Act (1964), created an Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) in order to manage a variety of “community action” programs to improve life in inner cities. The aim of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) was to help the poor help themselves through community development, education and job training programs.
The Community Action Program created Community Action Agencies. Some of the other most important new programs were designed to assist poor people the Model Cities Program, the Neighborhood Youth Corps, the Job Corps, Project Head Start and Upward Bound. A national service program called Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) was also created.
Despite the good intentions of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) it was too slow to have significant effect on life in the deprived inner cities and the intensity and violence of the 1965 Watts Riots shocked the nation and the government.
The goals of the LBJ, and his vision of the Great Society, were extremely high and very expensive to implement. The lack of funds were exacerbated further by the escalation of the costly Vietnam War.
The programs introduced by President Lyndon B. Johnson to meet his vision of the Great Society pumped large amounts of money into the economy without raising taxes. The numerous legislation passed resulted in a rise in the cost of goods, which spurred inflation, ultimately heralding the U.S. economic crisis in the 1970's referred to as Stagflation. The economic policies of President Ronald Reagan in the 1980's, called Reaganomics, brought an end to the recession.
Great Society Legacy: Several of the Great Society programs have survived to the present day such as Medicare, Medicaid and Project Head Start. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) was passed on March 23, 2010 reduce the growing cost of Medicare and Medicaid.
Great Society Legacy: LBJ's vision of the Great Society failed in some areas but succeeded in many others. He was fearless in his beliefs, had a genuine interest in education and worked tirelessly to have all Americans treated fairly.
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