|By Shank, Duane|
Fifty years later, does the political will exist to win the "War on Poverty"?
FIFTY YEARS AGO, on
The Act created 11 different programs, including the
Results of the programs have been mixed, with the most striking gains for older Americans. According to a special report from
We are still in a period of high unem- ployment, and wage growth is stagnant for many of those who are able to find work. Issues of a living wage, child care, and dis- integrating communities continue to need attention. Our economy is rapidly becoming more unequal, with a staggering concentra- tion of wealth held by the very few at the top. All of these factors work against a serious effort to overcome poverty.
Politically, the mood is toward shrink- ing federal budgets rather than providing needed resources, and military expenditures continue to take the lion's share of what is available.
It brings a strong sense of déjà vu. By 1967, only two years after the start of the War on Poverty,
Poverty doesn't have to exist. Nearly 10 years ago, the faith-based antipoverty net- work Call to Renewal issued its "Covenant to Overcome Poverty." The central proposal was that "Those who work responsibly should have a living family income in which a combination of a family's earnings and supports for transportation, health care, nutrition, child care, education, housing, and other basic needs together provide a decent standard of living." That remains the core of a solution.
But the question now, as then, is whether the political will exists. In his 1964 State of the Union message, President Johnson said, "This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. … It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it."
Where is that will today? Fifty years later, the nation still waits for the war on poverty to be won. n
"The richest nation on earth can afford to win it."
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