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Working paper: How Johnson Fought the War on Poverty

Published by USC Bedrosian Center on

“How Johnson Fought the War on Poverty: The Politics and Economics of Funding at the Office of Economic Opportunity,” with Martha J. Bailey. The Journal of Economic History 74(2):351-388, June 2014. NBER Working Paper No. 19860. Winner of the Arthur H. Cole Prize for the the best article published in the Journal of Economic History from July 2013 to July 2014.


The successes and failures of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” have been debated for decades. This paper contributes a novel quantitative analysis to the vast historical literature on the War on Poverty’s political economy. We find that the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) overwhelmingly directed its funds toward high-poverty areas, while also investing in Democratic strongholds and areas with bigger swings in favor of the Democrats in the 1964 Presidential election. Finally, we find quantitative support for Alston and Ferrie’s hypothesis about the role of the Southern paternalism in shaping the modern U.S. welfare state.

Bedrosian Center