The 50 Year War on Poverty: Where Are We Today?

16 Jan

LBJContinuing with my desire for an increased awareness around issues of poverty and class — which automatically addresses issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and the many other intersections of identities — I thought it might be helpful to do some reflection since President Johnson initiated his War on Poverty 50 years ago.

As we reflect on issues of poverty and class (and all of the implications therein), it might be helpful to keep in mind that today over half of the members of the United States Congress are millionaires. Yes, leading the pack is our Republican Darrell (I Hate the Poor) Issa, with a net worth of approximately $464 million dollars. Of course, Republican Obstructionist Mitch McConnell also made the list of millionaires.  When those crafting policy are so far removed from the practical concerns of everyday people, it’s no wonder that they make so little effort to improve the lives of those people.

For years, polls have shown that the top priority for Americans is job creation. Congress has done virtually nothing. Instead, congressional Republicans have wasted money fighting the Affordable Care Act, a law that ensures that the poorest still have access to necessary health services. Trying to score Tea Points, they shut down the government, again disproportionately harming the poorest, both government employees and service users.

In a nation where the highest court has decided that corporations are people, it comes as no surprise that those conglomerate entities wield their power to collect more wealth. The result is an increasingly skewed distribution not just of wealth but of security. People who are scrambling for a basic living have precious little time to fight for their rights. That makes the recent fast food and Wal-Mart strikes even more impressive.

War on Poverty? It seems like poverty is winning, abetted by the authorities who should be bearing arms against it. How sad this makes me for the late President Johnson, who tried so hard to address issues of poverty by creating social programs that would help lift people out of poverty without judgement and shame.

Here we are now 50 years post Johnson’s initiatives according to the Pew Research Center:

Today, most poor Americans are in their prime working years In 2012, 57% of poor Americans were ages 18 to 64, versus 41.7% in 1959.

Far fewer elderly are poor: In 1966, 28.5% of Americans ages 65 and over were poor; by 2012 just 9.1% were. There were 1.2 million fewer elderly poor in 2012 than in 1966, despite the doubling of the total elderly population.

But childhood poverty persists: Poverty among children younger than 18 began dropping even before the War on Poverty. From 27.3% in 1959, childhood poverty fell to 23% in 1964 and to 14% by 1969. Since then, however, the childhood poverty rate has risen, fallen and, since the 2007-08 financial crisis, risen again.

Poverty is more evenly distributed, though still heaviest in the South: In 1969, 45.9% of poor Americans lived in the South, a region that accounted for 31% of the U.S. population at the time. At 17.9%, the South’s poverty rate was far above other regions. In 2012, the South was home to 37.3% of all Americans and 41.1% of the nation’s poor people; though the South’s poverty rate, 16.5%, was the highest among the four Census-designated regions, it was only 3.2 percentage points above the lowest (the Midwest).

Sadly, today we see our own version of the Hunger Games being played out.  The people with the most power have the most money and continue to strip benefits from those that need it the most.  Perhaps obliviousness is their greatest privilege.

14 Responses to “The 50 Year War on Poverty: Where Are We Today?”

  1. Jennifer Carey January 16, 2014 at 6:49 am #

    One thing that struck me was that this data demonstrates how social programs can help to alleviate poverty – notably Social Security and Medicare have had a dramatic impact on poverty among Seniors.

    Sadly children are still the most impacted and their plight will continue to feed the circle. Those born into poverty rarely escape it. It is so troubling to me that people do not recognize that by attacking the poor, some (not the majority) of whom may be reaping what they sew with drug use and lethargy, by taking away unemployment rates, limiting welfare monies, decreasing food stamp funding, etc is only going to impact those most vulnerable who are poor due to no “fault” of their own. It is tragic.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 16, 2014 at 6:54 am #

      Jennifer, thank you for the comment and for your work in trying to eradicate poverty! I also wanted to mention how the Affordable Care Act ties into poverty and children, but the article was getting quite long. I am very fortunate to live in a state where all children have health insurance and we can benefit from the ACA, as do I. Sadly, places like Georgia and other states in the south are refusing families the right to sign up for the ACA, which seems insane and a horrible abuse of power.

  2. Central Oregon Coast NOW January 16, 2014 at 7:05 am #

    Reblogged this on Central Oregon Coast NOW.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 16, 2014 at 7:22 am #

      Thank you for reblogging this, Nancy. Thank you for helping to raise awareness around system poverty.

  3. prideinmadness January 16, 2014 at 7:19 am #

    I saw in the paper a few days ago that my generation will be the first since the depression that will not be better off then their parents. I didn’t sign up for that.

  4. dykewriter January 16, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    Reblogged this on dyke writer and commented:
    War on anything

    is about profits for the few

    and well

    population control of the many

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 16, 2014 at 9:15 am #

      Sadly, since Ronald Reagan, we have witnessed a very intentional war against those without.

  5. Voice of the Trailer January 16, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

    Oh the rich irony.

    from Salon: Friday, Nov 22, 2013
    “GOP is literally killing its base: Slashing food stamps will decrease the life expectancy of poor rural whites, many of whom put Republicans in office”


    Now pardon me while I take myself down to the Wal-Mart, It’s the first of the month and my EBT card just got filled. I gotta get more High Fructose Corn Syrup Pop Tarts for Junior and the baby is just screaming for that Nestle Similac formula.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 16, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

      Dear Voice of the Trailer, you voice has been quite missed! I love the quote you provided from Salon. Great perspective that the GOP is literally killing off their base of support.

      Enjoy your trip to the Wal-Mart and pick up some McDonald’s on the way home. 🙂

  6. Steve January 16, 2014 at 5:54 pm #

    Devastated that a report of this kind speaks to our reality in the year 2014! Absolutely confirms our skewed and confused country. You shared so helpfully — though painfully. We have the ability to correct this but not the corporate will. Rich Rulers aren’t serving us well. Thanks for a clarion call, Michael! I’ll do my part! And thanks for getting us all charged up to make a difference early in this new year…thanks for leading us on!

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 16, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

      Steve, thank you for your voice for social justice. Thank you for being such a lovely and wonderful human being. Individually and collectively we can make the world a better place for all.

      • Steve January 24, 2014 at 7:57 pm #

        I just re-read this, Michael. And it made me even more angry — not just at the subject and its horrifying reality for millions — but angry at ME! I can do more, speak more, fight more,protect more, help more…and on and on. PLEASE keep the accountability strong for our voices of right — we must be stronger and more overt this year. I work daily with poor and homeless and hopeless people…but I think I can do more to hold leaders of all kinds to accounts. The (more than just financial) gap between decision makers/power brokers and the men and women I am eye to eye with is TOO WIDE!

        Sorry for my rant…but the edge of shame I’m feeling right now isn’t wrong…trying to be good and grow good-er!🙂 Sincerely. Steve xo

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt January 25, 2014 at 7:59 am #

        Steve, I so appreciate your “rant” here. Please know you voice is always welcome here! Yes, all of us are implicated in this twisted system of inequity that perpetuates poverty. Fortunately, we can take steps to change the system with how we vote and let our voices be heard when people in power abuse that power to keep people in poverty. Peace, Michael.

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