4 Things We Can Learn from LBJ’s Great Society Programs

4 Things We Can Learn from LBJ’s Great Society Programs

In May of 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson first spoke of his “Great Society” initiative to a group of students at the University of Michigan. In his announcement Johnson said, “The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice…”

Today, the Great Society initiative has been touted by leftists as one of the biggest and most successful social reforms in the history of the United States.

Johnson’s speech was meant to ignite a new vision for America. He advocated that a greater society could only be created if every citizen did their part to ensure America embodied its foundations of freedom and liberty.

While this pursuit of freedom sounds nice in theory, the cost of these programs has laid a heavy burden on the federal government and its taxpayers. Since the inception of the Great Society over 16 trillion dollars have been spent to eradicate poverty, thus enlarging the national debt and expanding the federal government.

With such an exorbitant amount spent on these programs, we would expect to see incredible results. Ultimately, that has not been the case.

Today we can look back at these bold initiatives and see its outcomes:

1. College tuition at public universities has increased 

Johnson believed that higher education was a necessity. In order for America to become the great society he envisioned, more young people were going to need to go to college. For this to be achieved, Johnson’s administration needed to remove any roadblocks that would prevent a high schooler from being able to attend a four-year university.

One of the biggest roadblocks at the time was the cost of college. The Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) was created to help low income families send their kids to college. The HEA also provided funding for colleges and universities in an effort to build up their programs and make them more competitive and produce a more competent citizenry.

Colleges received more funding and with that came more scholarships and more loans. This has incentivized more students to pursue a degree at a public university and has placed a bigger demand on higher education.

With this higher demand has come a higher price tag on tuition. In just 30 years, tuition at public universities has risen by 213%. If the goal of the Great Society was to have more people in college, why has tuition increased skyrocketed at this rate?

Today, we see politicians on the left trying to leave behind their own legacy of economic “progress”, by advocating for student loans to be paid off on behalf of the government, an endeavor that would cost taxpayers trillions of dollars.

2. Progress to reduce poverty has been minimal 

Another ambitious goal of the Great Society was to end poverty in the United States. Before the “war on poverty” started in 1964, poverty rates were already falling.

According to the Heritage Foundation, poverty rates today are about the same as they were in 1967, just a few short years after Johnson launched his initiative. While the percentage of individuals living in poverty has relatively stayed the same, the amount that the United States is spending on welfare programs has increased substantially.

If the war on poverty has not reduced poverty, what has it actually done? 

3. America as a whole has become less self-sufficient 

To encourage young people to become a part of the workforce LBJ created a program called JobCorps. The goal of JobCorps was to enlist up to 100,000 young men to learn and work on behalf of state and local governments as well as non-profits.

The classes and jobs provided had the intention of turning lives around and could allow people to get back on the right track to become useful members of society. These programs are still around today and their outcomes are less than satisfactory. According to a 2014 Washington Post article, it cost taxpayers about 45,000 a year to fund a JobCorps center in rural Oklahoma.

With this much money being pumped into a seemingly promising program we would expect good results, but the data doesn’t show that. By the time the article was written close to 9 years ago, less than half of the attendees had completed their training.

While the goal of getting people into the workforce is noble, the administration failed to find a sustainable solution to keep these people in the workforce, thus creating a debilitating cycle of unemployment and dependency upon the federal government.

4. Public education has been failing, despite its massive budget

Another component of the Johnson era reforms was the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This act was first promoted as Title I, created to give more funding to schools in low-income school districts with the goal of improving literacy among students. Title I has been renamed through the years and restructured under various administrations, with each new administration adding amendments to the act. LBJ originally allocated 1 billion dollars to public schools; today the number has only increased, with federal, state and local government’s spending 764.7 billion dollars on K-12 education.

The hope of Title I was to increase test scores and encourage students to thrive in academics. Has this extra funding truly helped to improve these areas of public education?

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