War on Poverty: Part 2

Added January 8th, 2014 by Gilda Z. Jacobs | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Gilda Z. Jacobs
From the League’s First Tuesday newsletter
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Today marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s now-famous State of the Union address that launched the War on Poverty:

“Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope — some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.

While some pundits will undoubtedly seize the anniversary as an opportunity to wrongly declare the War on Poverty a failure, we should instead recommit to LBJ’s vision, as there is plenty of evidence that it worked. And what an incredible return on investment!

A new paper from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that today’s safety net — including Johnson-era programs and those that came after — cuts poverty nearly in half. Using the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (as opposed to the official poverty measure, which fails to capture the impact of many programs) the safety net kept 41 million people, including 9 million children, out of poverty nationwide.

Another study by Columbia University pegs the drop in poverty from 26% to 16% over the last half-century using an alternative poverty measure. The elderly and children have been helped in particular.

As Arloc Sherman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, the War on Poverty programs had “an impressive record of achievement.’’

In Michigan, we also have evidence close to home that supports for struggling families do work. For example, we know that the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit kept 120,000 Michigan children out of poverty each year between 2009 and 2011.

That’s worth repeating — 120,000 kids!

In addition, you don’t have to look very far to find a family or individual in our state helped by food assistance and unemployment insurance. Both have been vital lifelines through Michigan’s tremendous economic problems over the past decade.

These successes should not downplay the struggles facing the nearly 50 million Americans, including 13 million children, in poverty in 2012. And 16 million were extremely poor —  living at half the poverty line.

Rising poverty among young children is of particular concern. The 2013 Kids Count in Michigan report, released last month, shows that the recession still has its icy grip on Michigan families with a 53% increase in the rate of young children eligible for food assistance since 2005 because of low family income.

A look back in time shows that poverty reduction happened at times of a strong economy. Poverty fell in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s and the ‘90s with low unemployment and rising wages across income levels. Today, stagnant wages and rising inequality are roadblocks to lowering poverty.

To fight poverty we need both a strong economy and the safety net for those families who cannot make ends meet. As Michigan’s revenues recover from recessionary times, we have the means and opportunity to invest in the engines of our economy –- particularly education — that will pay off in better-paying jobs.

One bright spot in the public policy arena is the bipartisan support of the expansion of Medicaid in Michigan to low-income working adults. It shows the ability to work across party lines to make life better in Michigan. Access to affordable healthcare will help lift up as many as 470,000 uninsured.

More can and should be done. Let’s restore Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit, raise the minimum wage and improve child care subsidies. Too many people in Michigan are working hard but still in poverty.

The 50th anniversary reminds us that we’ve been able to cut poverty in the past. Let’s recommit to making that happen again.

— Gilda Z. Jacobs

2 Responses to “War on Poverty: Part 2”

  1. Aw, this was an extremely good post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to make a really
    good article… but what can I say… I put things off a lot and don’t manage to get anything done.

  2. check this out…

    Racial Disparity | Michigan League for Public Policy…

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