From The New York Times:
In his State of the Union address on Jan. 8, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced his “war on poverty,” when the national poverty rate was 19 percent. His project created Medicare, Medicaid, a permanent food stamp program, Head Start, Volunteers in Service to America and the Job Corps.
Fifty years later, much has changed, but much remains the same — the national poverty rate still hovers around 15 percent. Does America need another war on poverty?
Before answering this question, it might be helpful to read Annie Lowery’s piece in the Times, which takes a look back at the War on Poverty 50 years after it began:
To many Americans, the war on poverty declared 50 years ago by President Lyndon B. Johnson has largely failed. The poverty rate has fallen only to 15 percent from 19 percent in two generations, and 46 million Americans live in households where the government considers their income scarcely adequate.
But looked at a different way, the federal government has succeeded in preventing the poverty rate from climbing far higher. There is broad consensus that the social welfare programs created since the New Deal have hugely improved living conditions for low-income Americans. At the same time, in recent decades, most of the gains from the private economy have gone to those at the top of the income ladder.
Martha Bailey of the University of Michigan answers the question with a simple yes: Many critics sell the war on poverty short. Poverty is still with us, and not every program worked. But decades of research have taught us how much directed policy can accomplish. Renewing our commitment to the war on poverty will open opportunities for more Americans and strengthen our society and economy.
Ron Hoskins of the Brookings Institution points to other remedies: Johnson’s war on poverty reflected the nation’s chronic optimism. But a half century later, we have far less than Johnson had hoped to show for these efforts. Thus, if Johnson’s vision of more self-sufficiency among the poor is to be achieved, we don’t need another war on poverty as much as we need to improve the programs we already have and create the conditions for more personal responsibility regarding education, work, marriage, and child bearing. Reducing nonmarital births and rewarding effective inner-city school teachers would be a good start.
One thing is clear: income inequality is greater than it has been in almost a century. Emmanuel Saenz of the University of California at Berkeley writes:
The labor market has been creating much more inequality over the last thirty years, with the very top earners capturing a large fraction of macroeconomic productivity gains. A number of factors may help explain this increase in inequality, not only underlying technological changes but also the retreat of institutions developed during the New Deal and World War II – such as progressive tax policies, powerful unions, corporate provision of health and retirement benefits, and changing social norms regarding pay inequality. We need to decide as a society whether this increase in income inequality is efficient and acceptable and, if not, what mix of institutional and tax reforms should be developed to counter it.
So what do we do about it, church?