War on Poverty Anniversary
Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson declared “unconditional war on poverty in America”. This “War on Poverty” led to the creation of some of our nation’s most important social welfare programs, including Medicare, Medicaid and Head Start. In addition, the Food Stamp program (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) was formalized and expanded, and America’s housing assistance system began to take shape.
Taking stock of the War on Poverty’s efforts, it is clear that, while poverty has certainly not been defeated in America, many battles have been won. According to research from Columbia University, poverty rates fell from 26% in 1967 to 16% in 2012. Additionally, poverty fell among children from 29% to 19%, and among the elderly from 47% to 15%. The social welfare programs of the “War on Poverty”, as well as later anti-poverty measures such as WIC, Women, Infants and Children program, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, are almost certainly responsible for much of these gains.
One clear area of progress particularly relevant to the work done at Philabundance is childhood malnutrition. Severe childhood malnutrition and its associated health problems, as found in the developing world, have been almost entirely eliminated from the United States through the deployment of Food Stamps and other nutrition programs. Furthermore, disadvantaged children who access Food Stamp benefits early in their lives are found to have better health and educational outcomes. Successful social programs like Food Stamps both fulfill an immediate need—in this case, by providing access to food—and develop the potential of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.
The War on Poverty proves that when our nation decides to make fighting poverty a political and social priority, a real difference can be made. However, today it can sometimes seem that hard-fought gains of the War on Poverty are being eroded. Important social safety nets like SNAP have their budgets slashed to ribbons, or in the case of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, are simply not renewed. The consequences of such political action (or inaction) are clear: resurgence in the very poverty we’ve made so much progress overcoming.
Any poverty in a country as wealthy and full of opportunity as the United States is unacceptable. The anniversary of the War on Poverty is the perfect time to renew our national commitment to fighting poverty—a fight that, with the right set of government programs and policies, we just might be able to win.