War on Poverty Day is observed annually on January 8 to reflect on the impact of the legislation first introduced in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson that collectively expanded economic opportunity through anti-poverty, health, education, and employment policies. One definition of poverty is “not having enough resources for your basic needs,” and it has a huge impact on people’s lives and society. Recent studies suggest the poorest states have a poverty rate of up to 18%. Poverty can happen to anyone. Whether it’s student who rely on scholarships top claim their right to education, seniors struggling with rising healthcare costs, or large families struggling to get food on the table, poverty is a problem that over 40 million Americans are fighting against on a daily basis.
History of War on Poverty Day
War on Poverty Day is an unofficial holiday observed annually on January 8 to reflect on the impact of the Economic Opportunity Act and several other policies first introduced in 1964 and enacted as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s response to the rising poverty rate in the country at the time.
“War on Poverty” generally refers to several initiatives proposed by Johnson’s administration and passed by Congress as a way to expand economic opportunity through anti-poverty, health, education, and employment policy implementation. As stated by President Johnson during the State of the Union address, “Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.” President Johnson’s initiative is said to have been influenced by the 1962 exposé titled “The Other America,” which demonstrated that poverty in America was far more prevalent than commonly assumed and successfully focused public debate on the issue.
President Johnson’s declaration was the precedent of the War on Poverty Day made soon after becoming president in the 1964 election, where he won in a landslide. This was after assuming the presidency on November 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated. Because of President Johnson’s declaration, congress passed the bipartisan Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and the even more important Civil Rights legislation that created the legislative framework that set the foundations for some of America’s current social welfare programs. Throughout Johnson’s administrations, the War on Poverty laid the foundation for America’s present-day safety net programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamp benefits, Medicare and Medicaid, and many others.
War on Poverty Day timeline
President Lyndon B. Johnson introduces the War on Poverty legislation during his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964.
The Nixon administration, succeeding Johnson, reshuffles the OEO, distributing its functions to a variety of other federal agencies in 1975 before eventually dismantling it for good in 1981.
A report is released on all the War on Poverty initiatives enacted by President Johnson.
The National Bureau of Economic Research finds that the poverty rate declined from 19.5% in 1963 to 2,3% in 2017, going by Johnson’s poverty standard.
War on Poverty Day FAQs
Was the War on Poverty successful?
Yes, as most present-day U.S. welfare programs have their roots in the War on Poverty policies declared by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
How long did the War on Poverty last?
The national poverty rate fell 42% during the War on Poverty from 1964 to 1973, and from 26% in 1967 to 16% in 2012 when considering safety net programs like SNAP and Medicare. However, poverty is far from eradicated, so the War on Poverty continues.
Is War on Poverty Day an official holiday?
No. War on Poverty Day was never declared as an official national holiday.
How To Observe War on Poverty Day
Read about its impact
Observe War on Poverty Day by learning about the impact of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 that created the Office of Economic Opportunity. You can also research the current welfare programs in the U.S. and learn about their root in the Economic Opportunity Act.
Support poverty-reducing policies
Lend your support to changes that seek to strengthen present-day U.S. welfare programs that all have their root in the Economic Opportunity Act.
Share your opinion on social media
Kickstart discussions about the initiatives that started America’s War on Poverty to help spread awareness of the day and use the hashtag #WarOnPovertyDay.
5 Things You Should Know About War On Poverty Day
It created Medicare and impacted SNAP
The Social Security Act signed by Johnson in 1965 established Medicare and Medicaid that significantly increased the income of seniors by reducing their out-of-pocket medical expenditures.
One initiative of the War on Poverty is the Food Stamp Act of 1964, which made the pilot Food Stamps Program permanent.
More equitable school funding allocations
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was signed into law in 1965 as part of the War on Poverty initiative that provided federal funding to primary and secondary education for professional development, instructional materials, and resources to support educational programs.
Martin Luther King Jr. criticized it
In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. criticized Johnson’s War on Poverty for “being too piecemeal.”
Johnson started it after he became president
President Johnson initiated the War on Poverty after he assumed the presidency on November 22, 1963.
Why War on Poverty Day Is Important
It helps us appreciate today’s welfare programs
Since most current U.S. welfare programs have their root in the War on Poverty policies, the day helps us appreciate the importance of programs like SNAP and Medicaid in our lives.
It reminds us of the policies’ impact
Legislative actions can improve living standards, but their impact can often go under the radar. War on Poverty Day serves as a reminder of the impact our representatives’ actions in the Senate may have on us and motivate us to support or reject them.
It recommits us to social good
Perhaps the most important purpose of War on Poverty Day is to recommit us to the fight to end poverty in the U.S. We need continued efforts for poverty to truly be a thing of the past, and the day is an opportunity for it.
War on Poverty Day dates