Social Solutions to Poverty:
America's Struggle to Build a Just Society
A book by Scott Myers-Lipton


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War on Poverty: Office of Economic Opportunity




In the summer of 1964, Johnson led the effort to pass the Economic Opportunity Act, which served as the official charter of the War on Poverty. The

act created the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), which was responsible

for the development and oversight of the War on Poverty programs. According

to Sargent Shriver, the first director of OEO, the goal of the War on Poverty

was “to offer the poor a job, an education, a little better place to live. The basic

idea was to give an incentive.” Consequently, the War on Poverty focused attention on opportunity rather than on inequality. The advocates of the War

on Poverty argued that material want was not caused by a defect in the U.S.

economy; rather it was caused by barriers that blocked opportunity. The Johnson

administration attempted to remove some of these barriers through the

elimination of institutionalized racism. Johnson realized there was a strong

relationship between race and poverty, stating that “many Americans live

on the outskirts of hope—some because of their poverty, and some because

of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace

their despair with opportunity.” Johnson pushed for the passage of the Civil

Rights and Voting Rights Acts, with the hope that by demonstrating that the

federal government supported civil rights, opportunity for African Americans

would greatly increase.


War on Poverty supporters also promoted education as a main strategy to end poverty. This came out of the belief that poor people were culturally deprived. These advocates argued that poor people had developed a “culture of poverty” as a response to their deprived condition. In order to overcome this alleged lack of cultural skills as well as a weak family support structure, the Johnson administration supported the rapid expansion of new educational opportunities such as Project Head Start, Follow Through, Upward Bound, Job Corps, and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). Head Start was a comprehensive preschool program that included intellectual stimulation, nutrition, and health care services. Follow Through built on the work of Head Start by providing a continuation of Head Start services through the first three years of schooling. Upward Bound was a program designed to prepare teenagers for college. The Job Corps was a vocational training program for unskilled young adults who had not completed high school. VISTA was a domestic version of the Peace Corps for people with a college education. The War on Poverty supporters argued that with the racist barriers removed and the necessary educational skills obtained, all could compete for the rewards of society in an equal fashion. They realized that this would not guarantee equality of results, but they argued that it allowed for equality of opportunity.

Myers-Lipton, p. 216-217

  (Excerpted from “Social Solutions to Poverty” © Paradigm Publishers 2006)


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