Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty

Weeks into Office, LBJ Turned Nation's Focus to the Poor

Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson Wally McNamee/Corbis hide caption

itoggle caption Wally McNamee/Corbis

Forty years ago today in his first State of the Union speech, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a "War On Poverty." Johnson's declaration came just weeks after succeeding to the White House upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Making poverty a national concern set in motion a series of bills and acts, creating programs such as Head Start, food stamps, work study, Medicare and Medicaid, which still exist today. The programs initiated under Johnson brought about real results, reducing rates of poverty and improved living standards for America's poor.

But the poverty rate has remained steady since the 1970s and today, Americans have allowed poverty to fall off the national agenda, says Sheldon Danziger, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan.

NPR's Robert Siegel, host of All Things Considered, talks with Danziger about the legacy of Johnson's programs.