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Does the U. S. need another War on Poverty?

Does the U. S. need another War on Poverty?

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?


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John B. Chilton
Jim Naughton

I am happy to call it whatever people want to call it if that will make it happen.

John B. Chilton

I’m saving on my free NYT views so I didn’t click through. But if I recall correctly that current rate of poverty cited is adjusted for government aid. See:

Without the safety net war on poverty the rate of poverty would be 25%. In that respect the war on poverty works.

I’d say all of the voices Jim cites have part of the answer. I’d put stronger emphasis on our failure to create an equitable system of primary and secondary education. And what I see missing is mention of the growth of demographic groups most likely to suffer poverty relative to whites, and along with that the perpetuation of white privilege.

My question then is, what are we the church doing about white privilege? To take a particular, would we each agree to have our children attend a school that was representative of the cross section of America? Or do we still want to buy into a neighborhood where we can avoid that, or to send them to private school?

Ann Fontaine

We don’t need any more “war on” anything. We need hearts of compassion toward our fellow citizens. We need jobs, education and healthcare. Let’s drop “war” as a metaphor – war is brutal and wounding.

Richard III

“We need to decide as a society whether this increase in income inequality is efficient and acceptable”, surely you jest. It’s completely unacceptable but given the brainwashing most Americans have experienced since the “Reagan Revolution” and the unrelenting drive by conservatives and their party to destroy the social safety net created by Roosevelt’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society programs and the civil rights laws of the 1960’s, I for one don’t have too much hope for the poor, the working poor or the middle class. Free market capitalism, otherwise know as Laissez Faire capitalism, is sold to us as the magical medicine that will cure all economic ailments and is at the root of much of what we see happening in America today, along with a healthy dose of good old fashioned GREED. The capitalism practiced today isn’t your great-grandfather’s capitalism or Adam Smith’s either, it’s a form of social Darwinism that is destroying this country from the inside out and it benefits only a very small part of the population. I hate to say it but most of us have no use for the poor and don’t want to be reminded of their existence. To paraphrase Ebenezer Scrooge, let them all die and decrease the surplus population. Makes you proud to be an American.

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