Jan. 20, 1964 - President Johnson said today that the U.S. could not wait for the gradual growth of the economy to lift the “forgotten fifth of our nation above the poverty line.” Renewing his appeal for a war on poverty, the President said in his Economic Report to Congress: “Americans today enjoy the highest standard of living in the history of mankind. But for nearly a fifth of our fellow citizens, this is a hollow achievement. They often live without hope, below minimum standards of decency.” The per capita income of 35 million Americans, he continued, was only $590 in 1962, as compared with $1,900 for the nation as a whole.
The President’s message was based on a 275-page report of his Council of Economic Advisers, headed by Walter Heller (left). The council sounded a warning: “The nation’s attack on poverty must be based on a change in national attitude. We must open our eyes and minds to the poverty in our midst. Poverty is not the inevitable fate of any man. The condition can be eradicated — and since it can, it must be.” The council said the poor “inhabit a world scarcely recognizable and rarely recognized by the majority of their fellow Americans.” “It is a world apart, whose inhabitants are isolated from the mainstream of American life and alienated from its values,” it continued. “It is a world where Americans are literally concerned with day-to-day survival — a roof over their heads, where the next meal is coming from. It is a world where a minor illness is a major tragedy, where pride and privacy must be sacrificed to get help, where honesty can become a luxury and ambition a myth. Worst of all, the poverty of the fathers is visited upon the children.”
President Johnson’s program for an all-out attack on poverty will be sent to Congress in several weeks. It will ask for more than $1 billion to finance expansion of existing programs and to inaugurate new ones. The program will place emphasis on training the unemployed for available jobs and on concentrating on pockets of poverty in cities, rural areas, mountain regions, migrant camps, and Indian reservations.