Tag Archives: Lyndon Baines Johnson

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.

Hero of the Week Award, LBJ: November 26

26 Nov

With all the hype I have been hearing lately about cutting the whopping 2% that NPR gets from the Federal government, along with the TON of money they get with their “beg-a-thons,” I thought I would add some much needed perspective and a sense of history.  National Public Radio was started to ensure journalistic integrity, so that there would be a source of news that could not be purchased by corporations and thus biased for a political agenda.  If we lived in a hyper-liberal society, NPR would offer a conservative perspective.  The country we live in now is so conservative that the Nixon years (Affirmative Action and the EPA started in the Nixon Administration) look downright leftist; consequently, NPR is acting responsibly by offering a slightly more liberal perspective (some would argue moderate and not liberal).

I would like to underscore the history of NPR and when it started.  President Lyndon Baines Johnson working with congress started the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, November 7, 1967.  I shall quote LBJ, because his words are far more eloquent than mine.  He describes the purpose of Public Broadcasting as:

It announces to the world that our Nation wants more than just material wealth; our Nation wants more than a “chicken in every pot”. We in America have an appetite for excellence, too. While we work every day to produce new goods and to create new wealth, we want most of all to enrich man’s spirit. That is the purpose of this act.

More concretely:

It will give a wider and, I think, stronger voice to educational radio and television by providing new funds for broadcast facilities. It will launch a major study of television’s use in the Nation’s classrooms and their potential use throughout the world. Finally — and most important — it builds a new institution: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Would that we could elect another LBJ.  While I would not want to be personal friends with him, nor sit and drink a beer with him, he was a fantastic leader with courage, intellect, and great intelligence.  My guess is he also knew the difference between North Korea and South Korea.  President LBJ earns the HWA posthumously for having the vision and leadership to safeguard true democracy.

 

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