Evaluating the success of the Great Society

Lyndon B. Johnson enacted nearly 200 pieces of legislation known as the Great Society.

Here are the Great Society’s key achievements and biggest failures. [See the full article for graphs and photographs.]

Civil Rights

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion or sex. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission authorized the attorney general to bring lawsuits against schools practicing segregation and discouraged job discrimination. In 2013, there were 93,727 charges filed with the agency.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 sought to eliminate discrimination in housing.

In 1970, there were 1,469 black elected officials in the United States; by 2011, there were more than 10,500. In 2013, the Supreme Court eliminated parts of the Voting Rights Act.

War on Poverty

The Economic Opportunity Act was the foundation of Johnson’s War on Poverty. The Office of Economic Opportunity directed and coordinated educational, employment, and training programs.

Estimates show that poverty has dropped from more than 25 percent of the population in the mid-1960s to 16 percent in 2012. The Office of Economic Opportunity, which ran the War on Poverty, was abolished in 1981.


The Elementary and Secondary Education Act committed the federal government to help local school districts whose students come from low-income families.

The Head Start program gives underprivileged children a “head start” before starting first grade. Head Start has served more than 31 million children up to age 5 since 1965.

The Higher Education Act helped people attend college through scholarships and low-income loans. It also established a national teacher corps.

In 2012-13, students received $185.1 billion in aid in federal loans and grants.


The Social Security Act created Medicaid and Medicare, health insurance programs for the elderly and low-income individuals and families.

By 2010, just under 47 million people – both elderly and disabled – were enrolled in Medicare and 62 million people are served by Medicaid.

Arts and Media

The Public Broadcasting Act provides financial assistance for public television and radio broadcasting, including PBS and NPR. “Sesame Street” and “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” are two of the programs supported.

The National Endowment for the Humanities is one of the largest arts and culture funders in the United States.


The Air Quality Act granted the government increased authority to control air pollution. Other Great Society environmental legislation included:

  • Water Quality Act, which required states to establish and enforce water quality standards for interstate waterways
  • Endangered Species Act, which provided threatened animals with limited protection for the first time.
  • Wilderness Act, which preserved 9.2 million acres as federal wilderness areas
  • National Trails System Act, which created a nationwide system of scenic and recreational trails

Housing and Urban Development

The Omnibus Housing Bill of 1965 provided rent subsidies for low-income people who moved into new housing projects, created grants to help homeowners rehabilitate their properties, aided small businesses displaced by urban renewal and grants to rehabilitate blighted urban property.

Not all the urban development programs were successes. For example, the Model Cities program was closed in 1974 after failing at urban renewal.

Consumer Protection

The Great Society produced a number of laws to protect consumers, including truth-in-packaging requirements, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Child Safety Act to ensure that toys, medicine bottles, and other products are safe.


The Immigration Act abolished the national origins formula that had been in place since 1924. Preference was no longer given to immigrants from some European countries. The law increased the number of immigrants from Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world.

Source: Evaluating the success of the Great Society
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