Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Baines Johnson declared this nation’s War on Poverty. As one piece of his vision for a Great Society, Johnson pushed through Congress four bills in 1964 and 1965 in an attempt to end poverty in the United States.
The Economic Opportunity Act led to the creation of community action programs (including our own Lower Columbia CAP), the Job Corps and Volunteers in Service to America, or VISTA, which had immediate and long-lasting impacts fighting poverty on a local level.
Then came amendments to the Social Security Act, which created Medicare and Medicaid, providing health care to the elderly and poor.
With the Food Stamp Act, Johnson made permanent the Food Stamp Program that had provided food assistance since 1962.
Finally, recognizing that education played a role in ending poverty, Johnson pushed through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provided federal funds to both primary and secondary education and promoted equal access.
While the success, or failure, of these legislative acts has been (and I’m sure will continue to be) debated, it was clear then (and unfortunately is still clear) that poverty continues to exist not only here but throughout the world.
Below you will find a few of the titles about poverty and Lyndon Johnson that you can discover, as well as much, much more, at your local library.
“The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives,” by Sasha Abramsky. Here’s a fascinating look at poverty in America and an expose -- and indictment, perhaps -- of the American system.
“The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It,” by Timothy Noah. This is a thorough explanation of the parlance of economics that shows how economic inequality continues to grow in the United States.
“Why Nation’s Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty,” by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. This engaging and accessible book looks at current economic conditions and tries to answer the questions as to why some nations are rich and others are poor and what possibly can be done about it.
“Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.: How the Working Poor Became Big Business,” by Gary Rivlin. Here’s a journalists’ excellent expose of the growing big business of poverty.
“End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time,” by Jeffrey Sachs. Sachs, an economist, proposes a solution to end extreme poverty in the world and explores why wealthy countries, and people, should take on this mission.
“Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America,” by Barbara Ehrenreich. This excellent account of the pervasiveness of working poor in America was a best-seller and is a must-read for anyone interested in this segment of society.
“The Other America: Poverty in the United States,” by Michael Harrington. This is the classic title from just over 50 years ago that first truly explored poverty in the United States and its causes.
“The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” (4 vols.) by Robert Caro. The best-selling, award-winning (including the National Book Award and the Pulitzer), four-volume (so far) examination of the life of Lyndon Johnson, one of our nation’s most colorful, fascinating, hated and effective presidents. It is not only the best biography of Johnson but one of the best biographical portraits ever written.
“The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency, 1963-1969,” by Lyndon B. Johnson. Here Johnson himself tells the story of his presidency, filled with great challenges and accomplishments.
Chris Skaugset is Director of the Longview Public Library.