The War on Poverty, Then and Now

Jan 13, 2014

January 12, 2014
[posted on mobile.nytimes.com]

To the Editor:

“50 Years Later, War on Poverty Is a Mixed Bag” (Washington Memo, front page, Jan. 5) did not recognize the dramatic reduction in poverty made during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s time in office.

When L.B.J. became president, more than a fifth of the American population was living in poverty. By the end of his term, the percentage had been cut to 12 from 20, the greatest one-time reduction in history.

The article also overlooked the broader milestone, the beginning of a period that proved transformative in our history, significant not only for what got done, but also for how President Johnson accomplished it. Fueled by his own experience and values, Johnson pushed hundreds of major pieces of legislation through Congress. More than any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, Johnson got things done by following his creed: “Do it now. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Not later today. Now.”

Ultimately the War on Poverty was just the first in a roll call of achievements — civil rights, education, health care, immigration, the arts and humanities, the environment — that, taken together, equaled nothing less than a new American revolution of opportunity and equality.

MARK K. UPDEGROVE
Austin, Tex., Jan. 6, 2014