The War on Poverty that began 50 years ago launched important federal programs that helped millions of Americans improve their quality of life and opportunities.
The problem is that, beginning in the ’80s, the trend that started with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s initiative began going backward.
Instead of continuing what started in 1964, with some fixes, when President Ronald Reagan took office, the trend of helping the neediest by redistributing tax revenues was reversed. This happened through federal cuts and satanizing the pooramong other wayslike with the imaginary character of the “Welfare Queen” that Reagan created and promoted.
Declaring Johnson’s initiative a failure today just because poor people still exist is naive. If it were not for the proposals that emerged from this “war,” there would undoubtedly be much more poverty. Programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, the 1965 Education Act and food stamps are just some of the tools that resulted from this strategy.
These programs built a social safety net that today is still being attacked by Republicans, as it has throughout these 50 years. The big difference is that now we know that deregulation and the markets are unable to create economic growth for Americans that is evenly distributed. Just the opposite: The GOP formula currently being espoused to fight poverty created the largest income and wealth disparity in American history.
The increase in minimum wage, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), access to a good education and a solid safety net that helps the most vulnerable are the path to fighting poverty. The history of these past five decades confirms the importance and need to reinforce the road that Johnson began.