Today marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson's declaration of a war on poverty. Despite this gloomy milestone, I feel hopeful. That's because I know -- from my own personal experience, and from the work we've been doing at the Family Independence Initiative -- that this country already has what it needs to reduce poverty. We just have to open our eyes to it.
Today, the Family Independence Initiative is releasing an issue brief, Through a Different Lens: The War on Poverty and a New Vision for the Future, which describes a new way forward. We're calling on the social sector -- policymakers, philanthropists, nonprofits, and others -- to rethink their approaches to poverty reduction in America and to join us in building a system for economic mobility based on what FII has learned about what works. This new way forward starts with viewing low-income families through a different lens, recognizing them as assets instead of liabilities, and building upon their creativity, capacity, and resourcefulness.
In the paper, you'll have the opportunity to learn about Francia, Maria and Sergio, and Jolly:
Francia Peguero is many things, depending upon your perspective. She is a single mother of three who lives in subsidized housing in Boston. She has only a high school diploma, a damaging credit score, and a pile of debt. Seen through this lens, a government or nonprofit caseworker might assume that Francia needs job training, childcare, and financial literacy training.
Similar assumptions might be made of Maria and Sergio Perez of San Francisco. Sergio is employed in retail. With seven children between the ages of two and fourteen, no savings, and only one wage earner in the family, it might seem that the Perezes should apply for food stamps and get career counseling.
Jolly Bugari of San Francisco, a Ugandan immigrant, is also poor and unemployed, struggling to support herself while pursuing a master's degree in health. Her dream is to start a business, but given her financial circumstances, a social worker might counsel her that going for a master's or starting a business would not be the most practical next steps. A social worker might offer her a training program to become a paraprofessional in the health care field.
Digging deeper, however -- past the perceived neediness -- we will find a different story of resourcefulness and drive. And if we as a society were to focus on this resourcefulness, initiative, and capacity, we'd likely see a very different reality.
To see what this reality looks like, read the rest of the paper.
On this day, 50 years after LBJ's famous speech, it's time for a fresh perspective on poverty and mobility. This begins by recognizing the wisdom, talent, capacity, and drive that already exists in low-income communities across the country. Once we can see the tremendous assets we already have, the future starts to look much brighter.