Statement Before the Democratic Platform Committee

"This war is no give-away program. Every dollar that the poor get they will earn by working or by sticking it out through a tough training program that will enable them to get back on their feet."
Washington, DC • August 18, 1964

Members of the Committee, ladies and gentlemen:

Last January, President Johnson declared unconditional war on poverty. And last week, Democrats and Republicans joined together in Congress to second that declaration -- by passing the Administrations anti-poverty bill.

The facts of poverty are clear. Poverty exists in every town and city, on Indian reservations and in rural areas of every state in the Nation. It afflicts white and non-white, north, south, east and west, Republicans and Democrats, young and old. It hits hardest at those least able to defend themselves, the ill, the uneducated, the unemployed, the broken family, the dependent child, the minority group member.

Their world is not just one of constant need; it is one with little hope or opportunity, without any real chance for escape. That is the world of poverty. And these are the Americans who live in it:

  • one million children growing up in families with incomes of less than $20 a week
  • nine million families -- thirty million people -- housed in shacks or tenements, ill fed, poorly clothed, cut off from the world of abundance around them
  • nearly a million boys and girls who will drop out of school this year before they get .a high school diploma
  • a million mothers trying to rear a family without the support of a husband.
  • three million aged faced with increased medical bills
  • over half a million young men between 14 and 24 who never even entered high school
  • and more than a million young men who cannot meet the basic physical and mental standards necessary to join the Armed Forces

These are the facts of poverty. They concern all Americans. They concern your future and your family’s future. Crime, delinquency, violence, idleness, dependency and unemployment cost us billions each year. They menace each of us and they are a reproach to our conscience.

The Democratic Party has historically been the party which cared and which acted. We need not go back to the days of the Great Depression to prove this. Far more recently the Democratic Party has expanded social security coverage, aid to dependent children of unemployed parents, and manpower and vocational training. The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, just passed by Congress, is part of this great tradition. It is a practical and economic effort, carefully focused to get at the root causes of poverty in the United States. It is not a program of handouts. It seeks to eliminate poverty by providing opportunities for work and education and training. It will open up new economic opportunity for every poor American.

This bill means that nearly a million boys between 16 and 22 who are now standing on street corners can get work so that they can learn what it is to be a man and support a family.

It means that millions of young women -- tomorrow’s mothers -- will have a new opportunity to learn how to run a sewing machine or select a cut of meat or budget household expenses. And they can also get the training they need to hold a job.

It means that one million mothers who are struggling to bring up their children without a breadwinner in the house to help can get education and training. These mothers and their children -- they are the poorest of the poor -- are finally going to get a chance to get out of poverty, not just to exist from day to day.

It means that every American who wants to pitch in and help fight poverty can volunteer and go to work where they are really needed. We need thousands of these volunteers today in Y’s, in settlement houses, in Scout troops and boys’ clubs, in training programs and schools and day care centers. We are ready now to receive their applications.

It means that eleven million illiterate adults will get a chance to read and write and count well enough to hold down a decent job.

It means that 15,000 destitute farmers can get the cow, the seed, or the plough they need to make good where they are, instead of drifting to the big city slums, to join the ranks of those on relief.

It means that, for the first time, kids from slums can start first grade with an equal chance because they were able to attend pre-school classes.

And for nearly ten million elderly people living in poverty, this means neighborhood services to brighten their lives, and opportunities for those who wish to use their experience helping young people grow into their responsibilities.

It means that 80,000 boys and girls will be able to get the part-time work they need to stay in high school, and 140,000 talented young men and women will be able to get to college because of the money they can earn as teachers’ aides and counselors and librarians’ assistants.

For the first time, a community that really means business can get at all the problems of poverty at the same time and lick them, once and for all.

These are the things that President Johnson’s war on poverty means.

Critics say that this effort is a cruel hoax, a vote-getting gimmick which will be tossed aside soon after the election, a collection of handouts for the lazy.

But if this is a cruel hoax, it is strange that not one Republican Governor and not one Republican mayor and not one Republican Senator stepped forward to expose it before the committees of Congress.

If this is just a vote-getting gimmick, then ten Republican Senators and more than a score of Republican Representatives would not have voted for the bill.

If this is just a dole program for the lazy, then dozens of businessmen would not have volunteered to help plan it -- or agreed to secure jobs for Job Corps graduates.

This war is no give-away program. Every dollar that the poor get they will earn by working or by sticking it out through a tough training program that will enable them to get back on their feet.

In fact, the critics are themselves guilty of a cruel hoax. They have no practical alternative solutions. They do not challenge the existence of the problem, but they have no answers.

They would wile away time quibbling over administrative details, while this program turns relief-receivers into taxpayers.

They would spend a year in studies and research and planning. This program swings into action with training and jobs for one million young Americans who are out of school and out of work today.

They are content with piecemeal tinkering with present programs. This effort goes to the roots of poverty with bold new programs to raise the earning power of nine million American families.

The anti-poverty bill is a major stride forward in eliminating poverty and its causes in the United States. But President Johnson’s war on poverty goes far beyond the new programs enacted last week.

Last December, an expanded job training program gave a second chance to school dropouts and a new lease on life to men who had been automated out of jobs.

This past March, we got the first tax cut in a decade. It gave us all, and especially the poor, new purchasing power. As a result, we are enjoying the longest sustained period of rapid growth in decades, and this prosperity is helping to support the war on poverty.

And this is only the beginning. We are not going to quit now, while twelve million children grow up in families of poverty, go to crowded, under-staffed, poorly equipped schools. And half of them drop out -- beaten before they start. We can’t let this continue. And we can’t close our eyes to poverty. It is all around us, though, thank the Lord, most of us have been spared.

Just because so many of us are lucky to be well off, there are some who say the poor deserve to be poor because they are lazy or stupid. It is impossible to believe that 35 million Americans are no good -- that, one-fifth of our country is made up of drunkards, idlers, dope addicts, and wastrels. Twelve million children living in poverty should not be crossed off the list.

Other people say that the poor will always be with us, that there is no point in trying to eliminate poverty. But President Johnson does not believe that. The Congress of the United States does not believe that. And the American people do not believe that.

We know we can win. We have the will to win. We have the technology, the skills, the manpower - and now we have the programs.

That is the American way -- to face up to a problem and overcome it, not to ignore it; to liberate the human spirit, not abandon it to the bondage of poverty; to take two Americas, the America of the poor, and the America of the more fortunate -- and make of them one nation under God with liberty and justice for all.

That liberty and that justice mean we must look at Americans not as the rich and the poor, but as each one a citizen of our country. The days when we separate poor people and label them relief recipients are numbered because relief is an outworn concept unworthy of Americans in this day. Ours is a great country, with great potential, incredible technology, dedicated and capable people. We should not need to “relieve” anybody. We do need to open up more opportunities. With this philosophy and approach, we will soon see the day when economic opportunities completely replace relief and the dole in our country. This, I propose, is the challenge to our generation - to build a world for our children in which relief is unknown and opportunities are unlimited.

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
Get the Quote of the Week in Your Inbox