Duke University School of Law
The War on Poverty
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THEWAR ON POVERTY HUBERTHHH.UMPHREY*
In today’s America there is a paradox in the midst of plenty.
known. Our standard of living keeps going up; income per capita keeps climbing. According to the Council of Economic Advisers the gross national product for 1964
was 628.7 billion dollars. The President’s Economic Report for I966 states that the gross national product increased by $47 billion in 1965. The value of the nation’s outputofgoodsandservicesrosemorethanone-thirdfromI960throughI965. The rate of unemployment dropped from 6.6 per cent in December 1960 to 4.I per cent in December i965 and is now below 4.0 per cent. During this last year corporate profits, after taxes, were twenty per cent above the 1964 level. 2.2 million people moved above the poverty line in 1965.
But there also exists what Michael Harrington has called “the other America”– an America in which one-fifth of our nation lives-an America in which 32,000,000 of our citizens live without adequate education, housing, or medical care.
Nearly fifteen million of those living in abject poverty are children. It is an
America in which some of these children cannot go to school because they have
neither clothes nor shoes; some, when they arrive in school, are crippled in per-
formance by hunger, illness, or physical affliction, social deprivation, or racial dis- crimination.
It is an America of bewilderment, suspicion, depression,and despair.
For the first time in our history we have the ability to rid our society of this other America. In his State of the Union message in 1964 President Johnson stated, “. . . we have the power to strike away the barriers to full participation in
our society. Having the power we have the duty ….”
and researchstatistics,we have the resourcesto wage an all out war on poverty. America has continually made attempts to improve the lot of its poor. In the recent past we have had the “New Deal” and the “Fair Deal.” In nearly every gen-
eration we have had social reform legislation working to mitigate the harshness of poverty. Edgar May states in his book The Wasted Americans2 that prior to the
*Vice Presidentof the United States.
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war on povertythe welfareprogramsof the past were basicallyoutgrowthsof two
views on the necessityof housesof industry,insurance,educationand healthcare, it was the ideas of the severeEnglish Poor Laws which were importedand gen- erallyupheldby the colonists. The AmericanPuritansregardedpovertyas a sin, a sign of moralbankruptcy.Debtors’prisonsand punitiveworkhousesreflectedthis
philosophyof the causationof poverty.
and long term help. Factorswere being injectedinto the equationof poverty whichseriouslylimitedanindividual’scontroloverhisown destiny.
Theconceptoffreeagency-thatis,freedom,withinlimits,tomakethoseessential choiceswhichwill shapeone’sown life-has beenbasicto the Americanphilosophy.
But by the Civil War,the factorywas appearingthroughoutsomesectionsof the country. This was to alterradicallythe degreeto whichmanyworkerscontrolled
their own destiny. In postwaryearsthe factorysystemmoved from textilesand consumergoodsto heavyindustry. With this camenot only the unparalleledpros-
classthatlivedso closeto destitutionthatthe slightestdropin employmentbrought
mass For this industrial life at best was
And the impersonalnatureof the forcesthat determinedemploymentand wage levels seemedto inject a deterministicelementinto the workers’lives that robbed themof substantiaclontrolovertheirveryexistence.
These conditionsmotivatedsocial reformersto instigateprivatecharitiesand local and statewelfareprogramsof unevenvalue. The “go to the ant”theoryof the socialDarwinistsrepresentedthe oppositereactionto the same stimulus.
While socialDarwinismis deservedlydiscreditedtoday,in that we see poverty as a conditionwhich might overwhelmanyonedue to forcesbeyondhis control, the nationalportraitof the poor is still that of the I930s-middle class individuals
goods. Poverty today is a culture, an institution, a way of life. Id. at 2.
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8 LAW AND CONTEMPORARY PROBLEMS
The impoverished man is the unskilled worker-the man whose job opportunities are shrinking. In the last four years, our economy has created over three times as many jobs for people in the field of education as it has for factory hands.
He is the skilled worker replaced by automation and cybernation.
He is the sick, the disabled, the aged.
He is the school dropout,the illiterate. While our statisticson housing and health have not shown conclusive correlation with poverty causation, the most basic and most substantiatedfactor is known. That is education. The factor most common to almost all the unemployed and under-employedis lack of basic education.4
He is the small farm owner, the tenant farmer, the farm worker, the migrant worker.
He is the victim of race prejudice.
He is the man engulfed by poverty, a vicious cycle out of which it is incredibly difficult for him, his children, and his grandchildren to escape.
A decent standard of living cannot be had without money; money is gained
through employment; a job requires education; and education takes money. Lack of education means no employment; unemployment means lack of funds for education of the children of the unemployed. It also means living in conditions of social as well as physical deprivation,which too often result in children entering school with such crushing handicaps that their eventual failure is assured.
Hence poverty is passed on from generation to generation with almost genetic certainty.
But as the forces of government and private philanthropy try to break this cycle of tragedy, the elimination of one of the component parts seems to demand as a
prerequisitethe elimination of another.
cannot help himself.
A balanced attack on poverty must provide at least four somewhat distinct
remedies: job creation, job preparation, transfer payments, and equal employment
economic growth rate would undo all the other programs which might be conducted. Educating and training men for jobs that do not exist is futile.
Since passage of the Employment Act of I946,5it has been recognized explicitly
See Cohen, A National Program for the Improvement of Welfare Services and the Reduction ol Welfare Dependency, in POVERTYIN AMERICA 279-80 (Gordon ed. I965).
6 60 Stat. 23, as amended, I5 U.S.C. ?? 1021-24 (I964).
THE WAR ON POVERTY
that the federalgovernmenthas a primaryresponsibilityfor maintainingaggregate demand. This act not only made mandatorythe annualEconomicReportof the
Presidentand createdthe powerfulCouncilof EconomicAdvisersand the Joint EconomicCommitteeof Congressb,utalsovestedinthefederalgovernmentspecific
responsibilityfor maintainingemployment,production,and purchasingpower. In
the it is a that the economic rateremainat followingdiscussion, prerequisite growth
not in the labormarketto havea boomingeconomy;or if new jobsbeingcreated are of a technicalnaturefor which one is not equipped;or if one is in a group which societywould rathernot have work (e.g., the aged, or women with small children);or if one is sickor disabled;or if by reasonof raceor colorone is denied a job for which he is qualified. Otherbasicapproachesare neededto meet these
jobs but upon the educationand trainingof men for jobs. Such programsas the
Job Corps,6 the Neighborhood Youth Corps,7 the Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962 (MDTA),8 and the VocationalEducationAct of I963?are
examplesof this approach.
groupswill be out of work temporarilyin the most healthyof economies;others
will be unemployedfor long periods;othergroupssocietyprefersto remainoutside the laborforce; othersmust have the effectsof povertyameliorated.Hence there
exist transferpayments,e.g., aid to the unemployedwith children,hospitaland doctorcarefor the aged,SocialSecurity,andrentsupplements.
Finally,even thougha job may existfor one who is qualified,he might be forced into the ranksof the or madeto hold a beneathhis or
origin. The Council of EconomicAdvisersreportedin 1965that if Negroes had
receivedthe same averagepay as whites having the same education,the personal income of Negroes and of the nation would be $I2.8 billion higher. If Negroes hadthesameeducationaalttainmentsaswhiteworkers,andearnedthesamepayand experiencedthe sameunemploymentas whites,theirpersonalincome-and thatof the nation-would be $20.6 billion higher. Finally, if Negroes were affordedthe same educationalbenefitsas whites and job discriminationceased,the total gross nationalproductwould riseby an estimated$23billion.
Provided for by the Economic Opportunity Act of I964, tit. I, pt. A., 78 Stat. 508, 42 U.S.C. ?? 27II-20 (1964).
778 Stat. 512, 42 U.S.C. ?? 2731-36 (I964).
77 Stat. 411, as amended, 20 U.S.C. ?? i5aa, bb, aaa, 35-35n (I964).
IO0 LAW ANDCONTEMPORARYPROBLEMS
In moral terms, discrimination is indefensible. In economic terms, its terrible cost hurts the entire nation.
We have then, the issues of job creation, job preparation,transfer payments, and job discrimination. Within these guidelines, some of the recent antipoverty pro- grams should be reviewed before analyzing in more detail the Economic Oppor-
tunity Act of i964.10
of the past centered primarily upon the device of transfer payments. And today these are essential to meet the needs of many groups within our society. But Social
Security, unemployment compensation, public assistance,old age and medical bene- fits, while necessary,do not eliminate the root causes of poverty.
It should be observed parenthetically, however, that one measure of the past,
the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of I94411-the “G.I. Bill”-by paying veterans to go to school, provides an interesting model for future programs aimed at other groups in our population.
The Area Redevelopment Act12in I96I marked a turning point in our approach to poverty, since it focused upon the elimination of poverty rather than the ameliora-
tion of some of its effects. In this act, structural unemployment was attacked in a novel way. Loans, grants, and technical aid were extended to communities classified
Regional Development Act of i96513is based on the notion that the states and the
federal government should join as partners to encourage private industry to invest in an area of the country that has historically lagged behind the rest of the nation in economic development. The administration of the program is housed in a Commission which is composed of representativesof the governors of the eleven states that comprise the regional and federal representatives. While the federal gov- ernment has a fifty-one per cent majority vote in the Commission, no program can be commenced in a state without the state’sprior approval.
The aims of the program are to build nearly 3,500miles of highway in Appalachia to promote mobility and commercial access, to establish health facilities, and to develop conservation of land, water, and timber resources. The Commission is also authorized to build community educational and health facilities which will then be operated with funds from the Office of Economic Opportunity.
The Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962 was again aimed at structuralunemployment, but this time the focus was not upon job creation but job preparation. Here the impact of automation and other forces in the job market
78 Stat. 508, 42 U.S.C. ? 2701-98I (1964).
75 Stat. 47 (196I), as amended, 42 U.S.C. S? 2501-25 (1964).
THE WAR ON POVERTY II
on young people and displaced older workers was ameliorated by vocational training
at precisely the same group, it is designed to attack the problem of structural un-
employment by providing vocational training for young people.
tion Act of I96515are of great significance, not only because of the groups they im- mediately affect, but also in terms of the precedent set for federal aid to, and
responsibility for, education. Under the former, the federal government is author- ized to make grants to states which have school districts with large numbers of children from low-income families. Subject to the approval of state and federal educational agencies, grants may be used in any way the school district feels proper.
The Higher Education Act of I965 authorizes federal scholarships for college
students, federally guaranteed low interest loans, aid to small colleges and other
community service programs, and special grants for college libraries.
than transfer payments. But one vitally needed form of transfer payment passed last year. Known popularly as medicare, this program is aimed at the rapidly
increasing percentage of our population over sixty-five. Administered by the Social Security Administration, the act allows the federal government to cover most hos- pital and nursing home costs, diagnostic studies, and home health-carevisits for those over sixty-five.
Special mention should be made of two laws not usually associated with poverty but which have a direct bearing upon the problem. The Civil Rights Act of I96416 and the Voting Rights Act of I96517 help to assure that all levels of government will be responsive to the needs of all groups in our society, and that there will be equal opportunity for jobs on the basis of merit rather than race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Since the incidence of poverty falls with undeserved severity upon various minority groups, especially the Negro American, the discrimination in em- ployment and lack of power over government which has caused this disparity in job opportunity must be ended. The Civil Rights Act of I964 and the Voting Rights Act of I965 do not guarantee this result but do establish these objectives as national policy and establish the framework of law whereby they can be realized.
The legislation which most clearly reflects the philosophical trend of present
14 79 Stat. 27 (codified in scatteredsections of 20 U.S.C.A. (Supp. 1965)). 16 79 Stat. 1219, 20 U.S.C.A. ?? o00oI-44 (Supp. 1965).
I2 LAW ANDCONTEMPORARYPROBLEMS
thinking-i.e., achieving the proper balance between job preparation,job creation, and transfer payments-is the Economic Opportunity Act of i964.18 Here, the older dominance of transfer payments is modified by an increased emphasis upon
job preparationand, to a lesser extent, job creation.
of this country in eliminating “the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty . . . by opening to everyone the opportunity for education and training, the opportunity to work, and the opportunity to live in decency and dignity.”19
While the budget given the Office of Economic Opportunity in fiscal I966 only amounts to a little over $1.5 billion, as opposed to the many billions of dollars spent
on poverty in other federal programs, the Economic Opportunity Act charges the Directorof the Officeof EconomicOpportunitywith overallresponsibilityfor advising thePresidentonthetotalwaronpoverty. Asaresult,theimpactoftheinstitutions created by the Economic Opportunity Act upon the philosophy of the total war on
poverty will be greater than its budget, when compared with budgets of the 200-odd other federal programs, would indicate. To aid in this coordination, the act also
created the Economic Opportunity Council.
povertyprogramshasbeenestablished. The Centercollects,analyzes,correlates,and makes available in one place to public officials and interested private institutions current information on the program.
To eliminate poverty, quite obviously something more than a bigger relief check is needed. A far-sighted remedial approach to exterminate the conditions which
cause poverty is required if its deadly cycle is to be broken. A basic cause of poverty is lack of proper education.
A student who leaves school before receiving a high school diploma will be in
serious trouble in obtaining and keeping adequate employment. Several reasons result in a student’s leaving school. One important reason is that our school pro-
gram has all too often failed to prepare our young people in the primary grades with those tools necessaryto continue in school at secondaryand college levels.
Due in part to our increased knowledge of intelligence and intelligence testing,
we now know that the intelligence quotient is not the completely static thing we once thought, but is at least somewhat elastic and can be especially affected by proper stimulation before a child is six. Children who come from culturally deprived
families often have no familiarity with pencils, crayons, writing paper, books, or complete sentences. These children are in serious trouble before they enter the
first grade. The chance to provide that vital stimulation which may be necessary to ensure their eventual graduation from high schools may be irrevocablylost before the student ever reaches school, the way our educational system is now established.
s78 Stat. 508, 42 U.S.C. ?? 2701-981 (1964).
THE WAR ON POVERTY
To help correct this deficiency, Operation Head Start was launched last summer
by the Office of Economic Opportunity. Special programs were developed to provide enough background for pre-schoolchildren from culturally deprived homes to permit them to enter first grade at least on a closer level of equality with their classmates
than would have been the case without the program. Head Start will now operate year round, and will involve the parents of the participating children so that all the growth of the children will not be negated by poor home environment.
During fiscal years 1965 and 1966, there were 371 Head Start programs involving 149,028 children at a cost to OEO of $6I,I35,185.
Many youngsters have not been able to stay in school for financial reasons. With a lack of education and lack of job skills these youngsters soon become a statistic in
the unemployment figures. To help these young people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two the Economic Opportunity Act of i964 established the Job Corps.
TherearethreetypesofJobCorpscenters. First,theconservationcenters,which are located in our national parks and forests. These Corpsmen divide their time between conservation work and basic academic instruction. They also receive coun- seling in work attitudes and general, psychological guidance.
Second, the men’s urban centers, varying in size from I,ooo to nearly 3,000 stu- dents. Here Corpsmen receive academic instruction and vocational training. At Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, for example, courses are offered in such fields as retail merchandising and health services. At Camp Parks, in California, Corpsmen are receiving instruction in such diverse fields as welding, electronics,office management, culinary arts, and television production.
Third, the women’s centers, accommodating about three hundred young women each are located in urban areas. The women receive academic and vocational train- ing along with instruction in home management skills and child care.
As of January I966 there were I7,190 youths in eighty-four Job Corps centers.
To help young people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two who remain at home,theEconomicOpportunityActof1964establishedtheNeighborhoodYouth Corps, administered by the Department of Labor. Those enrollees who are in school spend a maximum of fifteen hours per week in the program. Those that have dropped out of school or who have finished school spend as much as thirty-two hours per week in the program and are limited to an enrollment period of six months. If they return to school, however, they may continue in the Corps. En- rollees receive specialized academic instruction, vocational guidance and counselling in an effort to help them understand the need for proper work attitudes.
In fiscal year 1965, 642 projects were approved for 278,426 participants; in fiscal
1966, 798 projects were approved for 238,805 participants at a cost of $153,502,759. For those high school students who show promise of an ability to do advanced
work, but do not have the necessary achievement level or skills to gain admission
LAW AND CONTEMPORARY PROBLEMS
to college, the Office of Economic Opportunity developed and administers Upward
Bound as part of the Community Action Program (CAP).
ate degrees. One, the Work Study program, established by the Economic Op-
portunity Act of 1964,provides job opportunities for those college students who need asourceofincomeinordertocontinuetheireducation. TheHigherEducationAct
of I965, mentioned previously, is a second source of assistance for college students. Other approaches to the elimination of poverty have been instituted by the
Economic Opportunity Act of I964.
their farms and improve their homesites. In fiscal i965, 11,I04 loans were made to
individuals totalling $I8,733,800. To date, fiscal 1966 has seen 6,537 loans totalling
program, aimed generally at those businessmen whose operations are too small or whose credit is not sufficientto meet the demands of the usual small business loan. Not only is the businessman aided by the loan, but it is hoped that it will enable him to expand and create new jobs for the community’s unemployed. In fiscal I965 through January I966, 832 loans totalling $10,I74,269 have been made.
For heads of families who are out of work the act established the Work Experi- ence program. Although this does not give the high level of technical training that is offered by the MDTA program, it does enable participantsto qualify for income- producing jobs. From this point the individual may wish to enter the MDTA pro-
gram for advanced training. In fiscal year I965 through January 1966, 218 projects had been approvedfor 107,I62participants,at a cost of $I50,705,612.
The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 also created VISTA, a domestic Peace Corps,tohelpcommunitiescombatpoverty. Therearenow2,073volunteerswork- ing at sixty urban and 153 rural projects,including work with migrants, Indians, the mentally retarded,and the Job Corps, in Appalachia and in urban areas.
Finally, the act created the Community Action Program, funded and directed
by the Office of Economic Opportunity. This program representsa departurefrom previous methods of coping with the problem. It is the so-called “umbrella ap-
proach,” in which all antipoverty social welfare programs (hopefully, both state and federal) are administered on a community-wide basis by a single agency. This agency is composed of all elements to be formed within the community-the social welfare agencies, the elected officials,the business leaders, and most important of all, the members of the target groups.
The typical community action program might include a vocational education program, Head Start for pre-school children, literacy training, social work, a Foster Grandparentsproject,andpart-timeworkforneedycollegestudents. Thereare872
THE WAR ON POVERTY
grantees, including 623 community action agencies, 130 state and II9 university community action organizations. Some grantees have a contract which provides for
only one service, such as Head Start, or perhaps a literacy program with an Indian tribe. Others include a battery of operations under the community action umbrella.
Over the last two years, the 872 grantees have received 1,703 grants totalling
$313,568,566-$152,I10,309in fiscal i965, and $161,458,257in fiscal 1966. These figures include grants to twenty-seven institutions for administration of Upward Bound
projects at a cost of $3,236,634to OEO. It also includes twenty projects to provide legal services to the poor at a cost of $I,481,436; twenty-two Foster Grandparents projects funded at a cost of $2,800,000;and the operating cost of Head Start, quoted above.
The impoverished, as stated in the Economic Opportunity Act of i964,20 must have as large a voice in the program as is feasible. The statutory requirement of participationby the poor has been criticized at both extremes.
On the one hand, critics have said that the poor would not respond, would not participate. The most recent facts belie this. A recent analysis of the New York, Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, Austin, Kansas City, and San Francisco boards,
representing sixty-two per cent of all grantees, indicates that 27.5 per cent of board members are poor.
On the other hand, conservative critics have feared that participation of the poor was an invitation to anarchy. This too has been disproved by time, with harmonious relations generally existing between all elements on the various boards.
The poor get into board positions in a wide variety of ways, demonstrating the flexibility and range of choice OEO wisely leaves to the local community action
agencies. Of course some get there by ordinary, routine appointment processes. But for others the road to a share in community power is more interesting.
For example, in Philadelphia, the first step for a poor person to become one of the twelve on the thirty-one-member Philadelphia Anti-Poverty Action Committee (PAAC) istorunforofficeinhisneighborhood,justashewouldifhewererunning
for political office. Twelve poverty neighborhoods each elect twelve-member com- munity action councils, with all residents eligible to vote. One of the twelve elected leadersof each council is then named to the PAAC Board.
In Detroit, each of the four poverty areas has an advisory council which elects four persons to the city’s governing board. The sixteen so chosen join with twenty-
three representativesof private and public agencies (including the mayor), religious organizations, minority groups, business and unions to run the community action agency.
In Louisiana, the thirteen representativesof the poor on the twenty-seven-member board of the six-parish Acadiana Neuf, Inc., are elected at “town meetings” in the
i6 LAW AND CONTEMPORARY PROBLEMS
In Taney County, Missouri, poor persons on the board were elected by mailed ballots.
These examples show the local imagination and creativity which OEO deliberate-
ly encourages. As more and more of the expected total of 2,000 community action
agencies come into being, there is likely to be more and more experimentation. The administratorsof OEO want it to continue because they believe that neither
their experts nor the leaders of any local community have found (or can find) the one best way to give power to the poor which will be best for all communities.
The administration’s”war on poverty” has had its critics. Some of the criticism
isjustified. Wehavelearnedmuchbywide-rangingprograms,someofwhichwere frankly experimental. Mistakes have been made. We must now benefit by those mistakes and heed those critics whose criticism has been constructive.
However, much of the criticism has not been of this variety. Some would abolish the “war on poverty” because a simple solution to the problem has not been
found in the year following passage of the Economic Opportunity Act of I964. It would be as logical, and as constructive, to propose that all research on cancer be
discontinued since a complete cure or preventive has not yet been found, in spite of the millions of dollars spent on research.
Industry,labor,the universities,and all levels of government must push on in our
attempt to fashion new weapons to destroy an old adversary.
which we work: “To every man his chance, to every man regardlessof his birth, his
shining golden opportunity-to every man the right to live, to work, to be himself and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make
him-this . .. is the promise of America.”
head families, the sick, the unemployed-increased transfer payments adequate to permit them to carry on decent lives for themselves and their families.
For children, adequate preparationthat will permit them to participatein school with their classmateson the basis of equality.
For young people who have dropped out of school and too often out of society,
basic education and vocational training coupled with personal guidance to bring them back.
For everyone, an education limited only by one’s ability to learn.
For the worker automated out of a job, retraining and possible relocation.
For the rural poor, regional development to provide jobs and training to permit their realization.
For all minority groups, the right to an education which will permit them to
compete for jobs on an equal basis with anyone; the right to participatein all levels of government to ensure that its powers will be fairly used; the right to be able to
THE WAR ON POVERTY
spend one’s income on adequate housing of his choice; the right to fulfillment rather than the right only to opportunity made unreachable by factors beyond an indi- vidual’s control.
For all the people, a relationshipbetween government and private industry which
ensures a vibrantly growing economy which can provide not only the goods and services, but also the jobs necessary to permit all to share in the abundance of this