CNN's Don Lemon talks to Reverend Jesse Jackson about the anniversary of the 'War on Poverty."
Washington (CNN) - Fifty years ago, in his State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a "war on poverty."
"This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America," he proclaimed, speaking to Congress and the nation.
Johnson worked with Congress to pass more than 200 pieces of legislation that attempted to address the more than 37 million people living in poverty at the time.
Johnson's policies are considered the largest expansion of social safety net programs in history. He created Medicare and Medicaid, which provided health care to millions of low-income people and seniors. He also launched the Head Start early education program and made housing available for low-income people. On top of that, Johnson successfully expanded funding for K-12 education, passed the Voting Rights Act and provided money for artists through the National Endowment for the Arts.
The programs began to immediately reduce the number of people living in poverty, especially seniors. The poverty rate dropped to 12.1% by the time he left office. While an improvement, poverty still existed.
Johnson saw problems with his agenda almost immediately. Most notably, funding and focus turned to another war - the Vietnam War - hampering Johnson's vision.
Fifty years later, partisan battles over the size, efficiency and worth of government assistance programs persist. And the success of Johnson's war on poverty has been heavily debated. The poverty rate has followed a hilly path that reached as low as 11.1% in 1973 and hit a high of more than 15% in 1983, 1993 and 2010, and it's still at that level today.