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Evaluating the success of the Great Society

Lyndon B. Johnson's visionary set of legislation turns 50

In just under five years in the 1960s, Lyndon B. Johnson enacted nearly 200 pieces of legislation known as the Great Society, an unprecedented and bold set of programs aimed at improving Americans' everyday lives.

Fifty years later, we examine the success of this enormous volume of programs, many of which are so mundane and ordinary, it's hard to imagine a time without them.

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Key pieces of Great Society legislation and programs enacted between 1963-1968, by month

Civil rights

Poverty

Education

Health

Arts and Media

Environment

Housing and Urban Development

Consumer protection

Immigration

Other

On May 22, 1964, in a University of Michigan commencement speech, President Lyndon B. Johnson formally launched the most ambitious set of social programs ever undertaken in the United States—surpassing even Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in its range and in its ambition to transform the country.

Most of the Great Society’s achievements came during the 89th Congress, which lasted from January 1965 to January 1967, and is considered by many to be the most productive legislative session in American history. Johnson prodded Congress to churn out nearly 200 new laws launching civil rights protections; Medicare and Medicaid; food stamps; urban renewal; the first broad federal investment in elementary and high school education; Head Start and college aid; an end to what was essentially a whites-only immigration policy; landmark consumer safety and environmental regulations; funding that gave voice to community action groups; and an all-out War on Poverty.

Here are the Great Society’s key achievements and biggest failures.​

The Great Society at 50

SOURCES: LBJ Presidential Library, Collegeboard.org, National Endowment for the Humanities, Census Bureau, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Department of Homeland Security. GRAPHIC: Kennedy Elliott, Greg Manifold, Jade-Snow Joachim, Karen Tumulty and Katie Zezima. Published May 17, 2014.

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