Jimmy Carter: Social Policies & Impact on Society

Instructor: Judith Schultz

Judy has been teaching college History for 17 years and holds both a Master's and a PhD in History. She grew up in suburban Chicago & now lives in Tucson AZ

Jimmy Carter's commitment to social causes began in his youth and, at age 92, continues through today. In this lesson, you'll learn more about Carter's social policies and the impact his work has had on society.

Early Life

James Earl Carter, Jr. was born in 1924, in Plains, Georgia. His father was financially successful as a peanut farmer and his mother Lillian was a trained nurse. She served as an excellent role model for ways to work against injustice in a time of segregation and widespread discrimination against African Americans. Lillian traveled around the Plains area informing poor African American women on issues of health care.

During his years at Georgia Southwestern Junior College, Carter joined the Navy ROTC program at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His ROTC experience and academic achievements allowed him to enter the United States Naval Academy where he studied engineering. After graduation in 1946, he married and began his navy career as a nuclear engineer.

Carter Enters Southern Politics

In 1953, after his father died, Carter left the navy to help run the family farm. Carter began his political career in both elected and volunteer positions, working to support and improve local hospitals, libraries, and public schools. In 1958, Carter was the only white adult male in Plains who refused to join a strong pro-segregation organization called the White Citizens Council. The backlash towards Carter, his family, and the farm was swift. Neighbors and local business owners boycotted the peanut farm. Carter, however, never budged on his anti-segregation position, and the boycott eventually ended.

Carter won election to the Georgia State Senate in 1962 and quickly earned a reputation for working to end segregation and protect the voting rights of African Americans. By the late 1960s, Carter decided the best way to have a positive impact on state politics would be as governor. Carter became governor of Georgia in 1971 and, once in office, declared, ''the time for racial discrimination is over.'' His immediate disavowal of segregation earned him national attention and a feature on the cover of Time Magazine.

While governor, Carter focused on creating a more diverse pool of employees. During his term, the number of African Americans working in state government increased by 25%. Carter expanded access to education across the state, including preschool programs, and his work laid the foundation for the state's comprehensive preschool program that still exists today. During his tenure, more women and minorities served in important state policy positions and in judiciary branches than during all of Georgia's previous governors' tenures combined. Carter began garnering national attention from the Democratic Party and, in 1974, was named campaign chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Carter won the election of 1976, and became the 39th president on January 20, 1977.

Carter Presidential Portrait

Carter Presidency

One of the first tasks Carter undertook was diversifying the federal government. He appointed more blacks, women, and minorities to high-level positions than any other administration had in history. In addition, Carter's administration strengthened the regulations and legislation that protected minorities, the handicapped, and women from job and hiring discrimination. Carter also made an effort to support minority-owned businesses, setting aside 10% of public works funds for minority-owned programs, and $100 million for minority-owned banks.

In an effort to overhaul the nation's welfare system, Carter called for a series of reforms that increased benefits to welfare recipients. The overhaul would call for the creation of 1.4 million jobs for low-income workers, reduced taxes for the working poor by $4.9 billion, and a $2.1 billion increase in state and local government fiscal relief. He made the food stamp program available to an additional 2.2 million Americans and raised the minimum wage, which would boost the earnings of 4.5 million Americans by $2.2 billion. His Housing and Community Development Act also provided additional housing for low-income families and distributed funds to the most troubled urban areas.

Carter created the Department of Education and the government's first comprehensive education policy. This increased funding for elementary and secondary education, and student aid. It also created programs for disadvantaged children and supported desegregation in schools. Furthermore, he increased funds for child welfare and daycare services.

As social security system trust funds were depleting, Carter proposed refinancing the system to balance expenditure and income in a way that would distribute the tax increases throughout the wage base. This would also protect the system's finances till the end of the 20th century.

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