This essay analyzes the network of social experts who launched the War on Poverty in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations from 1963 to 1968. If they are often neglected in historical accounts, which are focused on public intellectuals and presidential advisers, these experts played a major role in the process of defining poverty in the affluent society. From World War II to the 1960s, their work remained largely invisible since it was made in bureaucratic and academic circles. If experts had free rein to carry out research on income distribution and the establishment of a poverty line, they proved to be less powerful when poverty gained national and political attention. Paradoxically, the War on Poverty was a pyrrhic victory for this generation of experts, who tried to reinvigorate the liberal social contract of the postwar years in the United States.

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