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50 Years From the War on Poverty -- Win or Lose?

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This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.

It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it. One thousand dollars invested in salvaging an unemployable youth today can return $40,000 or more in his lifetime.

Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support. But this attack, to be effective, must also be organized at the State and the local level and must be supported and directed by State and local efforts.

For the war against poverty will not be won here in Washington. It must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office, from the courthouse to the White House.

The words of President Lyndon Johnson declaring the war on poverty 50 years ago this month.

Critics claim we lost that war. After all, our poverty rate back then was 19 percent, and it's 15 percent now. Not much of a difference. They say all that government money on programs like food stamps, subsidized school lunches, Medicaid, and tax help for the working poor has just been wasted.

But wait a minute. What if we hadn't had those programs in the last 50 years? According to experts at Columbia University, poverty wouldn't be 15 percent or even 19 percent as in 1964. It would be a whopping 31 percent -- almost a third of our population.

Critics also say that we're piling on more and more government help, and it just fosters laziness. But that's a lie. The truth is that as a country, we're getting stingier, not more generous with the poor -- who, by the way, are mostly women and kids. In the last month Congress 2012-06-12-yourvoicesmallest2.JPGhas ended help for 1.3 million unemployed Americans, and cut food stamp aid at the same time. For workers at the bottom lucky enough to have a job, we're keeping the minimum wage so low they're guaranteed to live in poverty. The disastrous sequester has kicked 57,000 kids off Head Start, and slashed nutrition programs for poor women and infants.

And the difference between the very rich and the rest of us has grown astronomically since President Johnson declared his war. The top 1 percent of Americans have more than doubled their share of the national income since 1964. According to Pew Research, income inequality has now returned to levels not seen since the 1928, when the top 1 percent of families raked in 23.9 percent of all pre-tax income, while the bottom 90 percent shared 50.7 percent.

All this adds up to a war the poor instead of a war on poverty. Where is LBJ when we need him?

Listen to the 2 minute radio commentary including President Johnson's words here: