Monday, October 13, 2008

We Can Still Win the War on Poverty

Ronald Reagan once said, "We fought a war on poverty and poverty won." Ronald Reagan lied.

  1. Poverty did not win. From 1963, when Lyndon Johnson took office, to 1968, poverty declined dramatically. The number of people in poverty stayed at that reduced level until 1980. All that changed when Reagan was elected. "The average number of people living under the poverty line during the eight years of the Reagan administration was 33.1 million, 25 percent more than the 26.2 million living in poverty during the previous administration."
  2. Reagan fought on the other side. It's not just that he propagandized against poor people. Reagan actively cut programs that helped families and individuals get out of poverty. Let's take just one example: housing. Reagan cut the federal investment in housing from $74 billion to $19 billion in constant dollars. Reagan's cuts almost single-handedly created the homeless problem as we know it today; then he said on Good Morning America that people sleeping on the streets "are homeless, you might say, by choice." If there really were a war on poverty, Reagan was a deserter and a traitor. But...
  3. There never was an all-out war on poverty--"rather a collection of small projects aimed to improve education and community development, such as Head Start and the Job Corps," as Peter Edelman points out. "A complete war on poverty would involve much more: ensuring a quality education for every child, the guarantee of good jobs, universal health coverage, quality child care, adequate housing assistance and a safety net for those not in a position to work. In other words, a jobs and income strategy."
The so-called war on poverty remains to be fought--and it can be won.

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