Alyssa Leahy: The ongoing war on poverty

aPresident Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “War on Poverty” in 1964. As Johnson said in his State of the Union address that year,

“Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.”

Fifty-two years later, we are still working  to end poverty. The United States is often the first country to help other countries in need, but a significant amount of our population who are starving.

According to the Washington Post, the efforts toward the “War on Poverty” were centered around four pieces of legislation:

  • “The Social Security Amendments of 1965, which created Medicare and Medicaid and also expanded Social Security benefits for retirees, widows, the disabled and college-aged students, financed by an increase in the payroll tax cap and rates.
  • The Food Stamp Act of 1964, which made the food stamps program, then only a pilot, permanent.
  • The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which established the Job Corps, the VISTA program, the federal work-study program and a number of other initiatives. It also established the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the arm of the White House responsible for implementing the war on poverty and which created the Head Start program in the process.
  • The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, signed into law in 1965, which established the Title I program subsidizing school districts with a large share of impoverished students, among other provisions. ESEA has since been reauthorized, most recently in the No Child Left Behind Act.

Many of these programs are still in effect today, but have they actually reduced poverty? Economists at Columbia University found that when you take government intervention into account, poverty is down considerably from 1967 to 2012, from 26 percent to 16 percent:

bThis is a 10 percent success in 50 years. Although this is definitely progress, are we moving at a decent pace? A few weeks ago, Grammy’s host Chris Rock managed to raise $65,000 for Girl Scouts of the USA. During the Academy Awards telecast, Rock called on the A-list audience to “reach into [their] millionaire pockets” and buy cookies from his daughters’ Girl Scouts troop. How can poverty be so prominent when $65,000 was raised in a matter of hours?

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