Statement before the House Education and Labor Committee

Washington, D.C. | March 17, 1964

This country, with its enormous productivity, its advanced technology, the mobility of its people, and the speed of its communications has both the resources and the know-how to eliminate poverty.

For the past six weeks we have been working with the President to prepare the program that is now before your Committee. The objective of this program is an all-out war on poverty in the United States.

We believe this is a program which, if effectively and energetically carried forward will in the end eliminate poverty from the United States. There are those who say the poor will always be with us. I do not believe it. President Johnson does not believe it. What is more, I do not think the members of this Committee or the Congress of the United States believe it.

This country, with its enormous productivity, its advanced technology, the mobility of its people, and the speed of its communications has both the resources and the know-how to eliminate poverty.

Furthermore, we now have a far greater understanding of the complex causes of poverty -- what makes people poor, and what keeps them that way -- too often from generation to generation.

We are now asking you to put these resources and this knowledge to work in an all-out attack upon poverty, in which every sector of our society will join. From my experience over the last six weeks I have learned that business, labor and voluntary organizations as well as all levels of government are ready to enlist in this war.

You have before you the bill and an exposition of what we believe this bill can accomplish. I will not repeat these materials. But I would like to set forth the most important elements of the proposed legislation, before I try to answer your questions.

This is a new program--- new in the sweep of its attack, and new in many of the specific programs it recommends.

This is a prudent program -- it ensures a dollar's value for each dollar spent. It is carefully focused on specific areas of need. This is a comprehensive program -- it attacks the major causes which together create poverty in America, not just one or two of these causes.

This is a focused program -- focused on the poor. Other programs of the Federal government are concerned with education, health, employment and the economic climate. These programs are important -- but too often the people at the very bottom of the economic scale are missed -- and the least goes to the lowest. But this program is directly concerned with the job of raising 35,000,000 Americans out of a condition of poverty. And it represents the consensus not of any one group but of business and labor, of farmers and scholars, of interested private institutions and educated private citizens that this job can be done.

This is a new program, not because no one has tried to help the poor before, but because no one has tried to do it with a single-minded attention to the basic causes of poverty, and enlists all our national resources in the effort.

It is new in the extent of its reliance on local leadership and initiative. It's new in the force of its thrust.

The community action program that it proposes calls upon local leadership and local initiative to formulate long-range, comprehensive plans to eliminate poverty in each community. We will review these plans and help to finance them. But the initiative to determine and execute plans, to call upon local and state resources and institutions and to carry the plans forward, depends upon the will and energy of each community.

It is new in its emphasis on providing incentives to every sector of our society to join in the war on poverty, it creates a partnership between the Federal Government and the communities of this Nation. It also creates a partnership with business and labor, farm groups and private institutions. All of them have a role in our fight against poverty.

This Bill provides incentives for business to create new jobs, and to establish new enterprises to employ the long-term unemployed. It provides incentives for labor to use its resources in pension and trust funds to the same ends. It provides incentives for farm groups to strengthen the pattern of family farming, and to cooperate in drawing up plans to eliminate poverty in rural areas. It provides incentives for private institutions -- hospitals, community centers, Y 's and 4-H Clubs, and all the rest of our rich abundance of private organizations devoted to human welfare, to join in community action plans and focus their efforts more effectively on the problems of those in poverty.

It provides incentives and opportunities for dedicated citizens to volunteer as soldiers in the war against poverty. The Federal Government will recruit and train these Volunteers, but most of them will work for local and private organizations. And no Volunteer will enter a state unless the governor requests him.

This is a new program in its new emphasis upon youth. We want to give young people a chance to escape from the cycle of poverty -- to break out of the ruthless pattern of poor housing, poor homes, and poor education which condemns them to an unproductive life without adequate income. We want to give them a way out. We propose to do this through the job corps -- which will take young men from crippling environments and put them in camps where they will receive a blend of useful work -- often upon needed conservation project -- job training and basic education. They will graduate from these camps better able to earn a living and to play a useful role in society.

We propose to do this also through work-study and work-training programs which will provide part-time jobs for hundreds of thousands of young men and women -- allowing them to finish their schooling, or receive a minimum sustaining income while they learn the disciplines of work. Finally, this is a completely voluntary program. No one is required, under this Bill, to enter into any one of the proposed programs. It gives new opportunity to those who want to help themselves or their communities. But the choice is theirs. It is not imposed by the authoritarian discipline of the Federal Government, or of any Government. This is also a prudent program.

It is financially prudent. Its entire cost is already contained in the Budget. It does not raise the national budget by a single dollar. It is prudently planned. Every dollar allocated to this program will be spent to help the poor. There is no leakage, no huge new bureaucracy. Every section of this program has been designed to give maximum help to those to whom this help will mean a real chance to escape from poverty to those whose escape from poverty will mean, in the long run, a substantial lessening of poverty in the United States. If, as times goes on, we find that any of our programs is not making a maximum contribution to our total effort, we will change that program or get rid of it -- just as large business disposes of those divisions which are unprofitable.

This is a comprehensive program. It offers new opportunities, and offers them immediately, to millions of Americans --to almost half-a-million young Americans who would enter the job corps and the work-study and work- training programs -- to the farmers covered by the rural economic opportunity program -- to the citizens of every community with the initiative to establish community action programs -- to the long-term unemployed, hired by those businesses assisted by this program. For these people this bill offers immediate hope to develop their skills and capacities, to get and hold jobs, to maintain their farms or their small businesses.

It is comprehensive because, together with other programs already enacted or now before the Congress, it strikes at the basic ills which underlie long-term poverty in America. It strikes at lack of skills, and at lack of basic knowledge. It attempts to provide new motivation and sense of direction to the young. The tax cut and civil rights bills will help provide new exits from poverty. This program will give Americans the chance and the capacity to use those exits.

Separate sections of this bill are not isolated measures -- each standing by itself. They are designed to complement one another. They form a careful pattern in which different groups in the population are given the opportunity that best suits their needs. Like any carefully constructed building, the destruction of one of its parts could jeopardize the entire project and would deprive many of those in poverty of the chance to escape. Lastly, this is a focused program. It is focused specifically on the 35 million people, almost 10 million American families, who are obliged to exist on a median income of $1800 a year. It is not the creation of a few ivory-tower bureaucrats in a Washington office. We have called upon the advice and counsel of businessmen and Labor leaders, foundation officials and farm experts, educators and scholars. In short, we have called upon those who know these problems, who have worked with them, and who have useful ideas to offer. This bill represents the consensus of the best thinking in the Nation on this subject. I offer the Committee a list of many of those who have contributed to its formulation.

This is the program you have before you. A new program. A prudent program. A comprehensive program. A focused program.

Most important of all, it is a program that will work. It represents the hope of our government that in the years to come, this hearing will be viewed as the staging area from which the war on poverty was launched, the starting place for an effort which brought new hope, new opportunity, and a new life to those of our fellow citizens who have not been able to share in the abundance of American society.