The Two Wars Against Poverty

The Public Interest, Fall 1982.


Most people, including most scholars, think the War on Poverty began with a formal declaration by Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In a sense this is true, for there was in fact no formal governmental decree before that time. Academic researchers have chosen to conduct their statistical analyses of poverty within this narrow time frame, producing books with titles like A Decade of Federal Antipoverty Programs (published in 1977), or Progress Against Poverty: A Review of the 1964-1974 Decade. And so persuasive has this scholarly conception of recent history been that public debate over the Reagan administrations domestic agenda has been based on the widespread assumption that only beginning in 1964 were great strides made toward the elimination, or at least the alleviation, of poverty in America.

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