The World and How I See It: The war on poverty can still be won

The World and How I See It: The war on poverty can still be won

Zachary Denney, Online & Opinion Editor

In his first State of the Union address on Jan. 8, 1964, just seven weeks after the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared “an unconditional war on poverty in America.”  Through the establishment of federal programs such as Head Start, the TRIO program, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Job Corps, and of a federal Office of Economic Opportunity, Medicare and Medicaid, the United States was outfitted with all the “weapons” it would need for the “war.”

The goal was to lift 37 million Americans, 19 percent of the population in 1964, out of poverty.  By the time Johnson left office in 1969, the poverty rate had dropped to 11.2 percent. The goal, however, was to end poverty.  While the poverty rate continued to drop in the 1970s, by the 1980s it rose to 15 percent, where it has continued to this day.

In my recent interview with Lodi Unified Board of Education President Bonnie Cassel, she stated that 67 percent of the district’s students are living in poverty.  I was shocked by that number.

Taking that into account, with the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the “war on poverty” having taken place, I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of poverty in the United States.  With 46.2 million Americans, 16.4 million of them being children, living in poverty, I feel that we as a nation have failed.  I don’t think we’ve lost the “war” but we’ve been losing many battles.

The reason I believe we haven’t lost completely is that we still have the opportunity to change.  So much of our money, food and energy is wasted every year.  The government spends money to buy bullets, bombs, and drones while children go to school hungry.  We spend money on flat screen televisions, the newest iPhones and gaming systems while we walk past the poor begging on the street; very few of us will look at them and fewer will stop to offer them money or food.

One in three Americans slipped below the poverty line during the Great Recession, so don’t think it couldn’t happen to you.  If another recession began you might not be as lucky as last time.

There needs to be a work element added to our welfare system.  I’m in favor of bringing back the WPA and the CCC, two federal work agencies who gave jobs to the unemployed of the Great Depression.  Sure you might say that’s socialism, but when you look at the benefits both programs gave to America’s economy, whether it be the construction of power lines, dams, and highways or giving people more to spend and therefore stimulating economic growth, in the end, I would say that democratic socialism saved capitalism in the 1930s.

If somebody loses their job today, we simply offer them unemployment pay, but in a job market as bleak as the one we have now, they’re left to depend upon that check.  Many would love to work.  Many would work if we gave them an opportunity and the ones who wouldn’t, well, they would just have to learn.

If we had work programs like the ones of the 1930s, not only would we be giving people a chance to work, but we could provide much needed work to our crumbling infrastructure, our gloomy neighborhoods and gray downtowns.

The federal minumum wage should be $20 an hour — enough to raise the lowest wage earners above the poverty line.

I understand small businesses would not be able to adjust to paying their workers that much so quickly without failing; that’s why I advocate for steadily raising the minimum wage yearly until $20 is reached.  However, the first jump from $7.25 should be to $10.10, because we simply cannot continue to force our lowest wage earners to try to survive on a minimum wage based on economic statistics from 2007.

This war isn’t easy, but it has to be fought correctly in order to make the most impact.  Let’s all unite and declare the real war on poverty.