Johnson’s War on Poverty and the 1960s Riots: An Investigation into the Relationship between Community Action Agencies and the Riots

Robert Gillezeau, University of Michigan

The launch of the War on Poverty and the race-related riots in American cities were both key events in the 1960s and it has been suggested that there may exist a relationship between the two. Community action agencies (CAAs) were directed towards alleviating African American poverty, but by the late 1960s, they had become an explicitly anti-riot program. Some authors and officials, however, have suggested that the CAAs may have, in fact, triggered the riots. I employ an instrumental variables strategy, in a city-level cross-sectional analysis, to determine the causal impact of CAA spending on riot occurrence and severity. The “closeness” of the congressional elections of 1964 and 1966 are used as instrumental variables, as they are found to determine CAA outlays, but not riot occurrence other than through outlay provision. I find that spending on CAAs decreased both the likelihood of riot occurrence and the severity.

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Presented in Poster Session 6