Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Signing the Economic Opportunity Act

August 20, 1964

My fellow Americans:

On this occasion the American people and our American system are making history.

For so long as man has lived on this earth poverty has been his curse.

On every continent in every age men have sought escape from poverty's oppression.

Today for the first time in all the history of the human race, a great nation is able to make and is willing to make a commitment to eradicate poverty among its people.

Whatever our situation in life, whatever our partisan affiliation, we can be grateful and proud that we are able to pledge ourselves this morning to this historic course. We can be especially proud of the nature of the commitments that we are making.

This is not in any sense a cynical proposal to exploit the poor with a promise of a handout or a dole.

We know--we learned long ago--that answer is no answer.

The measure before me this morning for signature offers the answer that its title implies--the answer of opportunity. For the purpose of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 is to offer opportunity, not an opiate.

For the million young men and women who are out of school and who are out of work, this program will permit us to take them off the streets, put them into work training programs, to prepare them for productive lives, not wasted lives.

In this same sound, sensible, and responsible way we will reach into all the pockets of poverty and help our people find their footing for a long climb toward a better way of life.

We will work with them through our communities all over the country to develop comprehensive community action programs--with remedial education, with job training, with retraining, with health and employment counseling, with neighborhood improvement. We will strike at poverty's roots.

This is by no means a program confined just to our cities. Rural America is afflicted deeply by rural poverty, and this program will help poor farmers get back on their feet and help poor farmers stay on their farms.

It will help those small businessmen who live on the borderline of poverty. It will help the unemployed heads of families maintain their skills and learn new skills.

In helping others, all of us will really be helping ourselves. For this bill will permit us to give our young people an opportunity to work here at home in constructive ways as volunteers, going to war against poverty instead of going to war against foreign enemies.

All of this will be done through a program which is prudent and practical, which is consistent with our national ideals.

Every dollar authorized in this bill was contained in the budget request that I sent to the Congress last January. Every dollar spent will result in savings to the country and especially to the local taxpayers in the cost of crime, welfare, of health, and of police protection.

We are not content to accept the endless growth of relief rolls or welfare rolls. We want to offer the forgotten fifth of our people opportunity and not doles.

That is what this measure does for our times.

Our American answer to poverty is not to make the poor more secure in their poverty but to reach down and to help them lift themselves out of the ruts of poverty and move with the large majority along the high road of hope and prosperity.

The days of the dole in our country are numbered. I firmly believe that as of this moment a new day of opportunity is dawning and a new era of progress is opening for us all.

And to you men and women in the Congress who fought so long, so hard to help bring about this legislation, to you private citizens in labor and in business who lent us a helping hand, to Sargent Shriver and that band of loyal men and women who made up this task force that brings our dream into a reality today, we say "Thank you" for all the American people. In the days and years to come, those who have an opportunity to participate in this program will vindicate your thinking and vindicate your action.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke in midmorning in the Rose Garden at the White House. Among those attending the ceremony were Members of Congress who sponsored the bill and other supporters of the antipoverty program. The President specifically referred to Sargent Shriver, Director of the Peace Corps, who was later appointed Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity.

As enacted, the bill (S. 2642) is Public Law 88452 (78 Stat. 508).

Earlier, on August 12, the White House released the text of a letter from the President to the Speaker of the House requesting appropriations to support activities authorized by the Economic Opportunity Act, together with a letter from the Director of the Bureau of the Budget outlining details of the appropriation. The Supplemental Appropriation Act, 1965 (Public Law 88-635, 78 Stat. 1023), authorizing the appropriations, was approved by the President on October 7, 1964.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Signing the Economic Opportunity Act Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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