In his State of the Union Address 50 years ago, Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “War on Poverty,” joining the ranks of other war-dominated rhetoric such as the most recent endless war on terror and the ever-elusive war on drugs. Has the war on poverty made significant progress or has it turned into a stalemate like the other United States preemptive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Johnson’s efforts to eradicate poverty in America included programs such as Head Start, Food Stamps, Medicaid and Job Corps, some of which were included in the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which strengthened overall efforts to further policies that eliminate poverty, expand educational opportunities and provide health services for those in need.
While there continue to be debates over whether Johnson’s initiatives were a success or a total disaster, they nonetheless serve as an appropriate frame of reference to the current poverty-reducing legislation that exists today.
‘Half in Ten Act’
One such legislation is the bill H.R. 2182, ‘The Half in Ten Act,’ that would, if successful, cut poverty in 10 years, with the long-term goal being the total eradication of poverty in America. Senator Barbara Lee provides tangible solutions to end poverty, such as investing in job creation and training, implementing anti-poverty programs and early childhood education and providing quality college education, all of which are included in the Act. This Act coincides with U.S. President Barack Obama’s statements addressing poverty in his recent budget proposal.
The Half in Ten campaign has four main goals: create good jobs, promote economic security, strengthen families and cut poverty in half in 10 years. It is a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the Coalition on Human Needs and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Small Steps Forward
While the war-based rhetoric is consequential in itself and implies that there will be a loser and a winner in the war on poverty, the declaration of the war on poverty nonetheless sets the stage for national discourse regarding poverty reducing legislation.
A recent poll conducted by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, revealed that Americans want more programs to combat poverty. Most Americans agreed with the statement “most people living in poverty are decent people who are working hard to make ends meet in a difficult economy” and nearly as many agreed that “the primary reason so many people are living in poverty today is that our economy is failing to produce enough jobs that pay decent wages.”
While chairman Paul Ryan has recently dubbed the War on Poverty to be ineffective and a complete failure, it nonetheless pushed Americans in the right direction to confront global poverty and the institutions that exacerbate already harsh living conditions in the developing world. Rather than dismissing the opposition simply because of their ideological views, it is more useful to analyze the long-term trends in poverty.
In 2013, a Columbia study found that the poverty rate fell from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2012, proving that perhaps the social safety net programs that were implemented 50 years ago under Johnson’s presidency had some positive effect after all.
– Rozali Telbis