Wednesday, January 8, 2014

War on Poverty, 50 years later

On this 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson's announcement of his administration's War on Poverty, a lot of critics look at the situation for America's poor and have declared that war a failure. But Peter Dreier, a professor and department chair at Occidental College, offers compelling statistical evidence in a piece for the Huffington Post that rightly refutes that wrongheaded notion.

Writes Dreier, because of policies instituted in the War on Poverty, "the nation's poverty rate was cut in half, from 22.2 percent in 1960 to an all time low of 11.1 percent by 1973. Most dramatic was the decline of poverty among the elderly, from 35.2 percent in 1959 to 14.6 percent in 1974, thanks to enactment of Medicare in 1965 and cost-of-living increases for Social Security. The poverty rate among African Americans fell from 55.1 percent in 1959 (when most blacks still lived in the rural South) to 41.8 percent in 1966 (when blacks were an increasingly urban group) to 30.3 percent by 1974."

Just above 15 percent live below the poverty line today - some percentage points below that 1960s rate. It's still too high but as Drier notes, " without anti-poverty programs, the nation's poverty rate would be twice as large. But to make greater headway in reducing poverty, we need to combine targeted anti-poverty programs with broader policies to revitalize the economy, create more good-paying jobs, and reduce the nation's disastrous gap between the super-rich and everyone else. We need a policy agenda to share prosperity."

That idea of shared prosperity was also the crux of a book that Dreier rightly points to as an inspiration for Johnson, and for John F. Kennedy, Johnson's predecessor who got the ball rolling on addressing the issue of poverty in America. That book, Michael Harrington's "The Other America", was seminal in opening many eyes to the poor living in dire conditions in this country, often obscured and left invisible as people celebrated the rise of the nation's middle class after World War II.

That book was one of the first books I read as a teenager concerned about social justice issues. I still have my frayed, brown copy and have gone back to its powerful portrayals time and time again as a reminder and prod that such conditions must not remain invisible. We as Americans can and should do something about them.

As I wrote in June, Johnson's War on Poverty was also inspired by North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford's similar effort in this state with the N.C. Fund in 1963. I reiterate that a similar focus on poverty is needed in North Carolina today.

Policies and strategies from that time brought better education, job training, child tutoring, daycare and other economic development strategies to communities statewide and helped boost the prospects of millions of residents.

Of course, the common stereotype these days is that the poor are lazy and are poor because they want to live on the public dole. That does not fit the description of most poor people I know. Many are hardworking, working two jobs during the week, and a third on the weekend. Most do it without complaint and are just trying to give their children a leg up so they won't have to struggle so hard for so little.

Johnson had the right idea with the War on Poverty - to give people a hand up with a focus on jobs, education, housing and food aid to enable the next generation to stand on their own. Things didn't work out as planned, as Dreier notes with jobs and education programs getting short-changed because they were too expensive.

But I agree with Dreier. He writes that "within a decade after President Johnson declare a War on Poverty, we cut the nation's poverty rate in half. We should commit ourselves to cutting it in half once again by 2025.

"We know how to reduce poverty. We need to invest public dollars in a jobs program to create full employment, enact a federal minimum wage above the poverty line, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, increase funding for college financial aid, reduce the pay gap between women and men, make affordable health care available to all Americans, strengthen the social safety net (nutrition assistance, food stamps, housing subsidies), and update our lopsided labor laws so that workers who want to unionize have a level playing field to do so."

We can and must recommit to fighting poverty. In a country as rich as ours, it would be shameful not too.

- Fannie Flono


Exit 0 said...

Don't count on the NC government to help unless you've already got money.

bozz man said...

Well, what a great failure this was, LBJ's Great Society has been the greatest failure ever in our nations history.

Adolf said...

Seems like LBJ and dems like Kennedy before him were helpful in lowering poverty.

Also seems like the Nixon / Reagan / Bush policies are basically... if you are poor, it's your own fault. Leave government out of the business of helping the poor and leave that to churches and do-goobers.

CharlotteObserver said...

I can get six Psychiatrists to say your Grandma is crazy, so you can get control of her money.

But the problem she can get six that will say she is same.

I am glad Fannie feels so strongly about the war on poverty being so promising.

Maybe we can get a new Conservative Editorial Board Member at the Observer one day who will say she is crazy.

Wiley Coyote said...

Ahhh...the Flono Revisionist History Book is at it again.

The "war on poverty" has been a complete failure.

What's worse are the Flono's of the world who are so blinded their socialist, hypocritical agenda that they refuse the facts of the matter.

The poverty rate was falling dramatically BEFORE the Democrat Party began the great government dole program that continues today.

Here is a historical graph supporting that fact:

Then throw in:

~ $7.9 BILLION in Social Security Disability overpayments and just this week, over 100 arrested for $400 MILLION in fraud payments in NY

~ Food Stamp fraud is over $750 Million per year

~ National School Lunch Program fraud is $1.6 BILLION per year

~ "Plate waste" from kids on the NSLP is $2 BILLION per year

The "war on poverty" is a major factor in the decline of the African American family, but you won't see hypocritical Democrats say a word about that.

....nah...don't let facts get in the way of a good Fannie-tasy piece.

Anonymous said...

And another "social justice" thread being trumpeted in the new year.

>> ...and reduce the nation's disastrous gap between the super-rich and everyone else. We need a policy agenda to share prosperity."

What about Thou shall not covet? So, the moral of his story is bring everyone in when its cake-cutting time. No mention of the sacrifices and risks taken on the road traveled by an individual/family that put them in a position for financial gain.

samwise55freedom said...

Wow... Take and government should never be in the same sentence. Ever

Shamash said...

Well, the "Great Society" was never about "all Americans".

It was part of a cynical ploy by LBJ to buy black votes for Democrats.

And it worked.

The Democrats own the black vote now, but they need to secure the Hispanic vote.

For that reason, any continuation of "help" for the "poor" is most likely going to focus primarily on Hispanics.

And not on "America's poor" as a whole.

So sorry for everyone else since their votes have already been paid for.

Such is the way of our democracy once the masses learn they can vote themselves a paycheck and those in power know they can buy more votes.

Shamash said...

How about LBJ's "other" war?

How are those folks are doing today?

Funny how they're managing to pull themselves up by the bootstraps in Vietnam.

They are poor, poor, poor.

But improving rapidly.

The students in Vietnam are now better educated than ALL our blacks and Hispanics according to the international PISA tests.

How did that happen?

Maybe the common stereotype of our "poor" being lazy isn't so far off after all.

What good will providing "better education" and other feel-good "services" do if so few are willing to do the necessary work now?

I suspect that the Vietnamese will take even more jobs from our current crop of "poor", in the future.

And, yes, I think laziness does have something to do with it.

That and the constant poverty pushing done from the various "liberal" bully pulpits in our country.

Garth Vader said...

"I'll have the ni@@ers voting Democratic for 200 years." - Lyndon Baines Johnson

“These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference.” - Lyndon Baines Johnson

NHParalegal Anderson said...

I grew up in Durham, landed a temp job typing in a law office downtown. Couldn't afford college, but remember making about $6 bucks an hour in 1983. ved to SC, another law office making $9.50 by 1990. Moved to NH where I made $11 to start and $15 by 2007. I'm 52. Ran these law offices, excellent letters of recommendation. Rent any cheaper than $800 IS a dump. No heat, hw included. Loyal, babysit their kids. Single mom of 1 in my town must make $18 to just make it. Attorneys and other owners have already agreed between them what they will pay. Construction, manufacfurers, machinists, administrative personnel all capped at $15 - $18. Single white female with twins requires 2 bdrm per landlords, so always behind. But we eat very well. Our town has an all organic food pantry and restaurant where all are welcome better than most restaurants. Boxes of fresh meat, vegs, dry goods, specialty foods go home with families in exchange for volunteering. No one goes hungry. Breaks my heart NC agency heads go home and eat knowing people are starving! $122 a month for food? I will be volunteering my time. I certainly can't sleep knowing this. This is a tragedy. Lost hope leads to lost minds, then crime.