We’ve lost the War on Poverty

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 23, 2014

In the Book of Mark, New Testament, Jesus noted “the poor will always be with you.”

But President Lyndon Johnson called in 1964 for a “War on Poverty”, viewing the real possibility of ending poverty in the nation with the greatest wealth and opportunity of any nation in recorded history.

We recognize the 50th anniversary of that war this year.

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The war has been lost.

As our Republican friends remind us, the poor are still with us and the “war” failed in its ambitious attempt to end poverty.

Worse yet, as former Governor Presidential candidate Mitt Romney noted, fully 47 percent are “dependent upon government” and, he added, “who believe they are entitled to health care, food, to housing, to you name it.”

The poor in America are poor because — as Mr. Romney and others point out — they have failed to take advantage of the American Dream to, as Ben Boychuk, RedBlueAmerica columnist notes, accept personal responsibility: “innovation, education, entrepreneurship, creativity…is what the poor need to improve their lot in life.”

In short, as many on the Right have claimed, the poor are poor because they have accepted government handouts and created for themselves a “culture of dependency.”

One cannot invent or create if one lives off the dole, the fat of the land and languishes in the freedom of an enriched poverty where hard work offers no benefit.

And yet, do the facts support the argument that the poor love their poverty, deserve their poverty, and seek nothing but their poverty? And has Johnson’s War on Poverty failed because the poor are still with us?

The War on Poverty brought to America an expansion of the social safety net with programs including Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, Job Corps, the Community Action Program, community health centers and legal services and the expansion of Social Security benefits to retirees, widows and people with disabilities.

Many of these programs are popular and strongly supported by a broad majority of Americans today, lessening poverty from the pre-1960s levels and improving the lives of many in the process.

After the War on Poverty, Republican President Richard Nixon added to the social safety net by creating support for women, infants and children (WIC) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Nixon also proposed a guaranteed national income program that passed the House but died in the Senate.

Still later Republican President George Bush expanded the safety net with Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage.

And, most recently, President Obama created the Affordable Care Act, granting healthcare access to all legalized Americans.

All of these programs have failed to end poverty, this much is certainly true. But each of them has addressed needs in America that allow Americans to access opportunity not through dependency, but through hard work and strong values.

Yet today we remain short on opportunity, the American Dream now less accessible than in many other western nations, our ladder to economic mobility held back by laws that encourage our global corporate citizens to take jobs from Americans to others around the globe.

Our wealthiest Americans now pay a much smaller percentage of their income to taxes than the middle class and both corporations and individuals hide taxable assets out of America to avoid their rightful taxation while working Americans pay their taxes from payroll withholding.

During the Irish potato famine many died while across the Irish Sea. The English withheld food because English politicians argued that to feed the starving Irish would, according to Sir Charles Trevelyan, lead to “dependence upon charity, which is not an agreeable mode of life.”

Our Republican friends might agree with Sir Charles, but would you?


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.