The decades of 1950s and early 60s were periods of unprecedented affluence, prosperity and economic growth for USA, at scales that is difficult to match by any other country in human history. Years of persistent industrial growth, technological advances, and a full-time developed economy during the Second World War set the platform for USA to experience continued improvements in its industrial outputs, living standards, individual income, business and commercial profits, and infrastructural and capital growth.
With its GDP and GNP repeatedly touching new record heights, USA had undisputedly become world’s richest behemoth. However, amidst this spectacular mantle of prosperity, there remained large patches of poverty, racial discriminations, unemployment and inequality that did not conform to high level of affluence generally attained through out the nation. To bridge this yawning gap, President Johnson launched the concept of ‘Great Society’ with aim to bring equality and justice in US and distribute fruits of growth and prosperity to every citizen.
Policies and Programs of ‘Great Society’ The landslide victory of Lyndon Johnson in 1964 general election gave him suitable platform introduce a series of legislations concerning education, healthcare, environmental protection, consumer rights, regional and urban development, civil rights, employment opportunities, social welfare and income supplement programs, as part of his vision towards the great society. As Johnson himself belonged to middle class family, his ideas were well shaped and oriented towards the exact framework that he wished to create.
Pursuant to this vision he proceeded to introduce a number of legislations that included, Food Stamp legislation, Civil Rights Acts, Economic Opportunity Act, Mass Transport Program, Public Work and Employment Act, and Medical Health Car, Social Support, and Education Programs. The notable programs under Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ were 1. Income Assistance: Under the Income Assistance program, financial coverage and assistance were provided to people to enable them to support themselves and become self-dependent.
People were counseled, advices and encouraged to strive to meet their own requirements, under government aegis. 2. Education and training: Johnson was of firm view that education and training had crucial role in uplift deprived people to general levels of prosperity and affluence, providing tools and paths to break the vicious cycle of poverty and seclusion. Therefore, he put special emphasis on providing equal educational opportunities to economically deprived children.
In the ‘Great Society’ Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, special provisions were included to provide financial help, services and required assistance to schooling agencies and boards covering areas with economically disadvantaged families. Further, provisions were instituted that provided direct financial help and support to individual disadvantaged students. A number of training programs were launched in semi urban and rural areas to provide work exposure, work related training and vocational training to people, to enable them to earn and break free of poverty.
3. Healthcare and Medicare Programs: Recognizing the requirement of healthcare for all, an integral part of ‘Great Society’ vision was to provide medical care for elder and poor people, who are unable to look after themselves. The Social Security Act of 1965 and 66 ensured health care and medical treatment for people belonging to all age groups. 4. Housing: A rapidly emerging urban America required houses to support the millions that came to cities to full fill their dreams.
Concurrent were the problems of providing secure shelter to thousands homeless poor, left stranded on streets in inclement conditions. Therefore through Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968 one the one hand government targeted construction of 26 million additional rehabilitation units and on other provided for easy flow of real estate credit, liberalized loan market, expanded public housing fund, and low installments to enable people in low and middle income groups to own houses. 5.
Environment: One of significant achievements of Great Society vision was launching policies to make environment as free of pollutants and chemicals as possible, and thus imitating the drive towards environmental awareness. Armed with a number of acts and legislations such as Clear Air, Water Quality and Clean Water Restoration Acts and Amendments, Wilderness Act of 1964, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, Land and Water Conservation Act of 1965, Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act of 1965 etc, Johnson tried to create a social culture that is aware of its responsibilities in protecting environment.
Differences with Eisenhower People, and especially poor oriented polices launched by Johnson stood in contrast with the generally industrial and business focused programs adopted by Eisenhower in his regime from 1953-61. During the Presidency of Eisenhower, social welfare programs had taken backstage before large-scale industrial, infrastructural, and military programs. Although the entire nation as an entity move ahead, serious gaps had remained in its fabrics that Johnson tried to cover with his welfare programs under ‘Great Society’