They Are Talking About Poverty
By Fito Moreno
Mention the presidency of LBJ, and people who lived during that time will probably remember one of two wars that are his legacy—the Vietnam War and the War on Poverty. Fifty years have passed since President Johnson began fighting the latter battle.
The War on Poverty spawned many well-known social programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and Pell Grants, as well as modern food stamps and WIC nutrition programs. Poverty and hunger where on their way to becoming a distant memory until the mid-70s hit.
Today, an economy in recession, brinksmanship over the budget, and a focus on reducing government spending have all contributed to the increase in poverty, which in 2008 was higher than it had been in 1973. But a key factor that has led to the weakening of the social safety net is the lack of poverty on an administration’s agenda.
Some presidents since Johnson have legacies from their time in office that include an aspect of poverty—Carter and another deep recession, for example—but no president since LBJ has elevated the issue like Johnson did. As for the parties, Republicans today have focused on cutting anti-poverty programs, a stark contrast from the Nixon era. Democrats have focused more on aligning themselves with the middle class than acknowledging the 46 million Americans who live in poverty.
No one, president or party, has talked seriously about ending poverty in the last half century since something as strong as a war was declared on it. Even the word itself has been left in the shadows and ignored. It was almost taboo to mention in the media until just a few weeks ago.
It is easy to focus on the negative fallout that came after the Johnson/Nixon era in regard to poverty. But the programs that came out of that time have helped millions survive during the hard times of the past 50 years. Poverty surged after the financial crisis of 2008, but anti-poverty programs have done much to moderate the hardship.
Seeing my Google alerts blow up due to the sudden use of the word poverty is encouraging. Both parties are not only talking about it but proposing bold steps to reduce and end poverty. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) proposed shifting the management of anti-poverty programs to the states, but did not talk about cutting the funding for anti-poverty efforts as had been the case in previous months.
Hopefully Obama’s upcoming State of the Union address will be filled with this current anti-poverty fervor. Hopefully both parties can put aside the brinksmanship that has plagued this Congress and embrace the spirit of helping their fellow human beings. Hopefully we can all urge our politicians to do the right thing and make the eradication of hunger and poverty a top priority. Other countries, some in worse economic positions than the United States, have done this, why not us? If the presidents of my day can declare war on terror or weapons of mass destruction, why can’t they fight poverty again with the same spirit?
Fito Moreno is a media relations specialist for Bread for the World.
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