The Continuing War on Poverty
Forty-nine years ago,
President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty in response to a national
poverty rate of 19 percent. President Johnson believed that the U.S.
government could eliminate crushing poverty and created policy initiatives such
as Head Start, Volunteers in Service to America, and Job Corps. Although the
poverty rate has decreased since 1964, it remains unacceptably high at 14.5
percent of U.S. households, with nearly 49 million Americans, including 16.2
million children living, in poverty.
On July 31, House Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) held a hearing on the progress of the War on Poverty. Although both want to revitalize the American dream so that more people have the opportunity to achieve a better life, they offer starkly different paths to alleviating poverty. Rep. Ryan favors decreased taxes and incentives to get people off of assistance programs. Rep. Van Hollen argues that the budget put forth by congressional Republicans is akin to waging war against the poor, citing calls to block-grant SNAP and cut other federal anti-poverty programs. To illustrate their respective viewpoints they called on witnesses, including as Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of NETWORK.
Sister Simone Campbell said that we, as people of faith, need to love and care for the poor, and she also addressed the vital importance of the federal government and the private sector in lifting people out of poverty. She also discussed how low wages, a major driver of poverty, make it extremely difficult for working families to put food on the table. An increased minimum wage is, along with SNAP (formerly food stamps), our most effective tool in helping people lift themselves out of poverty. A faithful budget is needed to end hunger and poverty in the United States.
At Bread for the World we know that the best way to alleviate poverty is to create good jobs that pay a living wage. No one should go hungry while working full time at the federal minimum wage. We also know that the current sequester will hurt working families and increase hunger in the United States. Congress should replace the sequester’s indiscriminate and catastrophic cuts with a balanced plan of increased revenue and responsible spending reductions. The only thing holding America back from ending poverty is a scarcity of political will. It will take not only faith but patriotism to lift 49 million Americans out of poverty.
To learn more about how to end hunger in the United States, read the background paper "Ending Hunger in the United States."
Traci Carlson is Bread for the World's government relations coordinator.
Photo: At Our Daily Bread Employment Center in Baltimore, people line up for the Hot Meal Program, held seven days a week (Jim Stipe).
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