Thursday, January 9, 2014

50 Years After the War on Poverty, Will the Middle Class Become the New Poor?

Lynn Stuart Parramore
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Fifty years ago today, LBJ threw down the gauntlet on poverty in his famous State of the Union address of 1964. Fired with passion and buoyed by bipartisan support, his anti-poverty team kicked off new health insurance programs for the old and the poor, increased Social Security, established food stamps and nutritional supplements for low-income pregnant women and infants, and started programs to give more young people a chance to succeed, like Head Start and Job Corps. 
Americans have greatly benefited from big-picture economic changes like the minimum wage; investments in worker training and education; civil rights policies; social insurance; and programs like food stamps and Medicaid. As Georgetown University’s Peter Edelman pointed out in the New York Times, without these programs, research shows that poverty would be nearly double what it is today. According to economist Jared Bernstein, Social Security alone has reduced the official elderly poverty rate from 44 percent, which it would be without benefits, to 9 percent with them.

Some of our most prominent citizens have enjoyed protection from life’s vagaries through one or another of these measures. President Obama’s family once survived on food stamps. Congressman Paul Ryan was able to pay for school with Social Security survivor benefits when his dad died. A mere generation before, the workhouse or the orphanage might have been their fates.

Yet middle-class Americans are increasingly in danger of learning about poverty firsthand

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