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The University of Texas at Austin

Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs

Conference Paper

LBJ's Legacy in Contemporary Social Welfare Policy: Have We Come Full Circle?

Assistant Professor
of Public Affairs


Co-authored by Cynthia Osborne, Assistant Professor of Public Affairs

This paper reflects on today’s social welfare policies and the extent to which they are influenced by LBJ’s vision of a Great Society that helps “more Americans, especially young Americans, escape from squalor and misery, and unemployment rolls where other citizens help to carry them.” (LBJ, First State of the Union Address, January 1964). LBJ’s original vision for a War on Poverty is arguably quite different than the War that was eventually fought (and some would argue lost). However, it is his vision of what could have been, indeed what should have been, that is his legacy.

We contend that today’s policy priorities are heavily influenced by the initial priorities of the War on Poverty, although this has not always been the case. U. S. social policy has come full circle in many respects. Today’s policies emphasize job creation, work supports, and human capital development, all original tenets of the War on Poverty. In the interim, social welfare policy focused almost exclusively on cash assistance, or “welfare”, which was not a centerpiece of LBJ’s vision. Significant changes in the social, political, economic, and demographic climate over the past 50 years pose new challenges for today and call for a renewed strategy to fight poverty and disadvantage.

 Click here to download a PDF of the full paper.

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