The Great Society was an ambitious series of policy initiatives, legislation and programs spearheaded by President Lyndon B. Johnson with the main goals of ending poverty, reducing crime, abolishing inequality and improving the environment. In May 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson laid out his agenda for a “Great Society” during a speech at the University of Michigan. With his eye on re-election that year, Johnson set in motion his Great Society, the largest social reform plan in modern

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Riding A Wave of Empathy

On November 22, 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President of the United States after the killing of John F. Kennedy.

The assassination of Kennedy left American citizens reeling. They felt empathy, even sympathy for Johnson as he became president under such difficult circumstances. Johnson took advantage of this support to push through key elements of Kennedy’s legislative agenda—in particular, civil rights legislation and tax cuts.

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By the time he became President, Johnson wasn’t a green politician nor a pushover. After serving stints in the U.S. House of Representative and the U.S. Senate—where he was the youngest Senate minority leader and then Senate majority leader—he’d earned a reputation as a powerful leader who knew how to get things done.

He became Kennedy’s running mate in 1960 and was sworn in as Vice President of the United States in January 1961. By the time Kennedy was killed, the public knew Johnson could get things done and was prepared to back him.

War On Poverty

In March 1964, Johnson introduced the Office of Economic Opportunity and the Economic Opportunity Act during a special message to Congress. He’d hoped to help the underprivileged break the poverty cycle by helping them develop job skills, further their education and find work.

To do this, he created a Job Corps for 100,000 disadvantaged men. Half would work on conservation projects and the other half would receive education and skills training in special job training centers.

In addition, Johnson tasked state and local governments with creating work training programs for up to 200,000 men and women. A national work study program was also established to offer 140,000 Americans the chance to go to college who could otherwise not afford it.

Other initiatives the so-called War on Poverty offered were:

a Community Action program for people to tackle poverty within their own communitiesthe ability for the government to recruit and train skilled American volunteers to serve poverty-stricken communitiesloans and guarantees for employers who offered jobs to the unemployedfunds for farmers to purchase land and establish agricultural co-opshelp for unemployed parents preparing to enter the workforce

Johnson knew battling poverty wouldn’t be easy. Still, he said, “…this program will show the way to new opportunities for millions of our fellow citizens. It will provide a lever with which we can begin to open the door to our prosperity for those who have been kept outside.”

Many Great Society programs fell under the War on Poverty umbrella.

Medicare and Medicaid

By the time Johnson took office, mainly two groups of Americans were uninsured: the elderly and the poor.

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Despite Kennedy championing health care for the needy during his 1960 Presidential campaign and beyond, and public support for the cause, many Republicans and some southern Democrats in Congress shot down early Medicare and Medicaid legislation.