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Lyndon B. Johnson: Remarks at a Reception for Participants in the Conference on Women in the War on Poverty.
Lyndon B. Johnson
211 - Remarks at a Reception for Participants in the Conference on Women in the War on Poverty.
May 8, 1967
Public Papers of the Presidents
Lyndon B. Johnson<br>1967: Book I
Lyndon B. Johnson
1967: Book I

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Mr. Shriver, Mrs. Humphrey, Members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen:

Those of you who have been listening to speeches all day, I know you would not wish me to detain you long.

But I do want to share a few thoughts with you about the struggle that we have been waging with increasing intensity against poverty in this land that we all love.

Long before there was an official Federal "war on poverty"--long before the New Deal, the Fair Deal, and the New Frontier-the women's groups were fighting poverty in the neighborhoods and in the legislative halls. Many of the early victories in the struggle against poverty were won because the women cared enough to work, to plan, and to make their influence felt. The battles for compulsory education, the battles against child labor, are two that come most readily to my mind that the women carried on and the women won.

Now you have organized a new program, using new methods and new resources. But this program--like all of those that have gone before--will succeed only if you make the same commitment that women have made over the generations past. That commitment is

--to teach,

--to heal,

--to awaken the conscience of this great Nation.

So I would like to speak realistically this afternoon about the job that remains to be done--by all of us.

We have heard a great deal of contrary talk about poverty during the past few weeks.

Some people say we are spending too much, or we are wasting too much, on a losing battle to help poor Americans.

Others say that we are spending too little, that we backed away from our commitment to this war because of our commitment to the other war--in Vietnam.

Both views are earnestly held. But both, unfortunately, I believe, are wide of the mark.

To those who believe that we are backing off, I say, no--we are not backing off. We are staying for the long pull.

Let the figures speak to you--not because they can tell the whole story, but because they represent a conscious and deliberate commitment of the American people over the past 6 years.

The figures show that in this fiscal year, the amount of Federal funds going to help the poor in America--through all of our social programs--is a little over $22 billion.

If Congress passes the 1968 budget that has been recommended that it is now considering, this $22 billion will be increased to $25 billion 600 million, or plus $3 billion 600 million.

That is 2 1/2 times as much as this Government was spending in 1960.

So it is clear to me, at least that we are not backing off from our commitment to fight poverty. Nor will we--so long as I have anything to say about it. We are really just beginning.

To those of you who believe we are spending too much, I want to address a very special word:

You--and I--are both against crime in the streets. We are against violence and delinquency. We are against the dulling effects of dependence on welfare that continues from generation to generation.

We want our fellow men to be productive. We want them to be responsible citizens-not dropouts from our society.

I would like to suggest that we cannot logically oppose the effects of poverty and the efforts to relieve them. We cannot abhor the disease and then fight the cure--not if we want this to be a healthy Nation. And poverty, I believe, is curable. I have seen it cured.

More than 30 years ago in my home State of Texas, when I was only 27 years old, I served as the Administrator for the National Youth Administration. That program was started by a great President with vision, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was in many ways similar to the program that we have today in the Job Corps, in the Neighborhood Youth Corps, and Upward Bound.

It was a depression version of the war on poverty, and it was quite a success. In all, we had then some 33,000 young Texans involved in the NYA program. Some learned trades. Some were provided part-time jobs so they could stay in school. Many got full-time jobs.

You who are here this afternoon who are not familiar with those days may not know it, but the first beautification expert in the Johnson family was me--not Lady Bird. The NYA youth in Texas, under a great Governor, Jimmy Allred, built more than 100 roadside parks that are still in existence today and are the pride of our State. They worked on hundreds of other projects that helped that State, but most of all helped themselves.

So don't think the NYA and the other programs didn't have their critics--just as the war on poverty has its today. But for all the criticisms, most of the programs went on--and more importantly, they helped millions of Americans to survive, and ultimately to prosper.

I was on a Job Corps platform down in my State not long ago. I was speaking. As I looked down the list I saw a Governor that had been on NYA. I saw a Congressman that had been on NYA. I saw a chairman of the State Board of Regents who had been on NYA. So that is what happens. I see a Congressman today who was in the NYA over here. I am not going to look much more. It would take too much time from my speech.

But today, when I go through that State, I meet the people who were helped by NYA more than 30 years ago. Most of them are now in their late forties or fifties. Most are responsible and productive citizens. They are doctors, businessmen, teachers, and skilled craftsmen. And it will be hard for their children to understand what poverty is like. That is one of the information gaps of our time; many of our middle-class Americans cannot grasp the elementary facts of life for the poor people of this country.

--Many of us wake up in the morning to gentle music of a clock radio. A poor person in America may wake up because there is no heat or because a rat is running across his bed.

That is no exaggeration. In one poor neighborhood 40 percent of the 4-year old children identified a picture of a teddy bear as the only animal they knew--a rat.

--Middle-class Americans may complain about how hard it is to arrange a house call from a doctor. But a poor person in America may go without a doctor altogether-because there are few doctors' offices located in our slums. The poor in America do not know what the phrase "family doctor" really means. They take their medicine--when they can-usually from the emergency room of a public hospital. And they do not see the same doctor twice.

One doctor summed up the relation between illness and poverty very dearly. He said, "The poor get sicker. The sick get poorer."

--Middle-class Americans may settle most of their legal problems with ease. But when a poor person reports a violation of the housing code, he and his family may be evicted by the landlord. He cannot afford a lawyer to fight the eviction.

Poverty means all of these things--not one by one, but all at once. Each compounds the other.

Poverty wears different masks in different places. We think of it as a city disease. But almost half of American poverty is found in our rural areas. We sometimes may think of it as a Negro affliction, but seven in ten poor people are white. Poverty afflicts the old man and it affects the young child. Poverty is found on an Indian reservation, in the hollows of West Virginia, in the migrant camps of Oregon, and here, in Washington, D.C., as well as throughout my State.

These dimensions of poverty are not new. What is new is the all-out American effort to break their grip on millions of our fellow citizens.

I believe under the very able, imaginative, and inspiring direction of Sargent Shriver we are making great progress.

The tide of progress is clear. Let me share with you a letter from a mother in Peoria, Illinois: "You literally saved my boy's life. Before he entered the Job Corps, he used to say that the only way he could ever have anything was to steal it. He could have ended up in prison--or worse. Now he has a job at the Caterpillar Tractor Company and makes $2.96 an hour, and he has a chance to advance as he becomes more experienced."

The only thing the Government gave this young man was the chance--the chance to help himself. If that is a giveaway program then I am for it. I am for more of them.

The Job Corps will not eliminate poverty--or the effects of poverty--in the United States. Neither will the Neighborhood Youth Corps, nor a hundred retraining programs. Neither will the massive education programs that are now pumping over a billion dollars a year into education for the disadvantaged children; nor will the medical centers or the legal centers, the VISTA program or Head Start. Urban renewal alone will not eliminate poverty, nor will the new model cities program. The Teacher Corps will not eliminate poverty, nor will an increase in social security.

I wish I could say that all of these programs together--all $25 billion worth-would eliminate poverty and its effects in America during this decade. But they won't.

For the war on poverty is not fought on any single, simple battlefield, and it will not be won in a generation. There are too many enemies: lack of jobs, bad housing, poor schools, lack of skills, discrimination--and each aspect of poverty relates to, and intensifies, the others. That is the vicious circle that you must break.

We have spent well over $100 billion in the past 6 years in that effort. Those dollars have not brought us total victory. But they have brought partial victory. They have helped many millions of Americans take their first steps toward full and meaningful participation in this society.

We can see that as we look out at the faces of young people from the Job Corps--many of them now wearing the uniform of their country. We can see it in the Head Start classroom--although we may not be able to measure its results for a generation.

We can see it as fully 20 percent of the young people from households in poverty are now going on to college, and break forever their bondage to the vicious circle. We can see it in the hollows of Appalachia, where a job is again becoming a common occurrence, instead of a rarity.

Perhaps most importantly, we can see progress in the fact that bitterness is being rejected as the solution to poverty in the United States. The seeds of aspirations--of the will to succeed--have been planted in the slums and the ghettos and the hollows of America.

As they grow, there grows with them a new and restless spirit that seeks a constructive change and seeks a voice and participation in our society. That spirit, I believe, is going to build for us a better America. Bitterness and strife and separatism will not and cannot build anything; those things just destroy. And that fact, I believe, is understood among all but a very small minority today.

We may never live to see an America without poverty.

But we may see an America:

--where a lifetime of poverty is not the inevitable fate of a child born into it;

--where there is a genuine opportunity for every child and young person to live in decency and security;

--where the means of liberation and the understanding of how to use them are available to all of us.

If we reach that America it will be because we did not grow tired. It will be because we gave Americans a chance to help themselves.

That is in the finest and oldest American tradition: the same tradition that established the land grant colleges and public education, and the GI bill of rights; the same tradition that passed the Homestead act; the same tradition that established the NYA more than 30 years ago.

It is also the tradition out of which you come.

I was looking at some figures as I flew up on the plane today. I looked back a little over 3 years ago when I considered my first budget.

Then we were spending a little over 4 billion a year on educating our people. This year, we have more than 12 billion in our budget for education.

Three years ago we were spending about 4 billion a year on our health programs for all of our people. This year we are spending more than 12 billion.

So on health and education we are spending about $24 billion 800 million on those two subjects.

Now, can you think of a better place in the world to spend your money than to invest it in the bodies and the minds of our children?

You have given hope to so many of us. We think better lives are going to be the result.

We thank you for coming here to this meeting. We enlist your approval. We ask for your assistance. We urge your support.

May you never grow weary of the blessed work that you do. In the years to come, you can look back on this meeting here-in Washington today and say, "I was one. We came, we saw, and we conquered."

At least we are going to try.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 5:58 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to R. Sargent Shriver, Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, and Mrs. Hubert H. Humphrey. Later he referred to Mrs. Lyndon B. (Lady, Bird) Johnson and James V. Allred, former U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Texas and Governor of Texas 1935-1939.

The conference was composed of 460 organization heads and program chairmen of leading women's groups across the country who were interested in increasing volunteer participation by women in antipoverty programs.

Citation: Lyndon B. Johnson: "Remarks at a Reception for Participants in the Conference on Women in the War on Poverty.," May 8, 1967. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=28241.
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