(CNN) -- In a State of the Union address 50 years ago this month, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared "unconditional war on poverty."
Over the next year and a half, anti-poverty warriors developed new
health insurance programs for the elderly and the poor, increased Social
Security benefits and introduced food stamps and nutritional
supplements for low-income pregnant women and infants. They established
Head Start programs for young children, Upward Bound and Job Corps
programs for teenagers, and work-study opportunities for college
It is often forgotten
that this was a bipartisan campaign. A Republican president, Richard
Nixon, and legislators from both sides of the aisle expanded the War on
Poverty in the early 1970s. Nixon extended the reach of the food stamp
program, added an automatic cost-of-living increase to Social Security
and instituted the Supplemental Security Income system to benefit
disabled adults and children. He even proposed a guaranteed national income though that died in the Senate after passing in the House.
The truth is that the war
on poverty produced some stunning successes, many of which are still
felt today. And it likely could have produced more if politicians hadn't
abandoned it in the 1980s, at the very moment that America's working
families were facing heightened assaults on their living standards.
In 1963, despite more
than 15 years of prior economic expansion, the child poverty rate was
almost 25%. By the early 1970s it had been lowered to 15%. Between 1967
and 1975, poverty among elders was cut in half....