The War on Poverty and its Legacy: Assessing Fifty Years of Social Policy in America

Convener: Michael Rich

January 2014 will mark the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s call for a War on Poverty and the subsequent enactment of historic federal legislation that ushered in a host of federal programs targeted to the poor in America. A number of those programs remain with us today, as unfortunately, do many poor children, families, individuals, and communities. Indeed, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 46 million Americans were living below the poverty line in 2011 and the overall national poverty rate was 15%, a near historic high in the post-Great Society era.

To commemorate the War on Poverty and more appropriately reflect on its accomplishments, shortcomings, and legacies, this course, which is open to Emory undergraduate, graduate, and professional students from all schools, divisions, departments, and programs, will take a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary look at poverty in America, examining its people, politics, and most importantly our public policies and their effects on reducing or eliminating poverty in America.

In addition this course will connect our inquiry to the greater Atlanta area, both as an object of our study as well as a source of our learning, by drawing on residents, community leaders, nonprofit executives, and government officials as occasional speakers, panelists, discussants, and hosts for site visits.

Course Structure

  1. The course will meet on Wednesdays from 4-7pm.
  2. Several Emory faculty members representing different schools, departments, and programs will lead one class session during the semester, and their attendance at other substantive class meetings will be optional. The course convener, Dr. Michael Rich, will attend each class session throughout the semester.
  3. Students will be asked to work both individually and in groups, with the latter composed of students from diverse disciplines. Grades will be calculated on a 4.0 scale and adjusted if necessary to reflect the grading practices in each student's school or department.
  4. Graduate students will be assigned supplementary work beyond that required of undergraduate participants.


The course will be supervised by Dr. Michael Rich, Associate Professor of Political Science and Environmental Studies and executive director of Emory’s Center for Community Partnerships. In addition to Dr. Rich, other participating faculty include (tentative list): Dr. Frank Alexander (School of Law), Dr. Elizabeth Bounds (Candler School of Theology), Dr. Dorothy Brown (School of Law), Dr. Hannah Cooper (Rollins School of Public Health), Dr. Rick Doner (Political Science), Dr. Aiden Downey (Educational Studies), Dr. Alex Hicks (Sociology), Dr. David Jenkins (Candler School of Theology), Dr. Beth Reingold (Political Science and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies), and Dr. Rick Rubinson (Sociology).