In the last couple of weeks, amidst getting back into the swing of things following holiday laziness and excess, my email inbox, twitter feed, and blog roll have been inundated with information, resources, and commentary on income inequality and the war on poverty. If the sheer volume of information I’ve received is any indication, this is a big deal.
Fifty years ago today, President Johnson declared in his first State of Union speech: “Let this session of Congress be known … as the session which declared all-out war on human poverty and unemployment in these United States.”
This is a big deal. We’ve come so far in the last fifty years: average incomes of the poorest Americans have increased, the share of adults with a college degree has increased, and infant mortality rates have improved (more info on how far we’ve come available here). Public benefits, in particular, have helped to reduce the rate of children living in poverty.
In this excellent article, the author outlines the complexity of declaring the war either won or lost. While the poverty rate has fallen only a few percentage points, many gains have been made. My takeaway from all of this internet chatter? Although we’ve come so far – we still have so far to go. In Kentucky, more than 1 in 4 children still live in poverty. This has impacts beyond childhood – children born into poverty are more likely to be poor as adults, are more likely to have babies as teenagers, and are less likely to graduate from high school than their higher-income peers.
The article also discusses possible solutions. While food stamps and the Earned Income Credit have kept millions of parents and children out of poverty, more needs to be done. For example, Kentucky legislators could enact a state Earned Income Credit. House Speaker Stumbo has introduced legislation to raise Kentucky’s minimum wage – a solution that would help 480,000 Kentuckians, 27% of whom are parents. Legislators also need to restore funding to the Child Care Assistance Program, a critical support that provides children stable and safe care while their parents work.
Yes – we’ve come so far. We also have more work ahead of us. Kentucky legislators are going to face many tough decisions this 2014 legislative session. What would budgeting be without tough choices? This year, fifty years after the declaration of the war on poverty, my hope is legislators will seize the opportunity to further help lift working families out of poverty and provide them the support they need to help their children thrive. When kids succeed, our families communities, and economies succeed too.
For further reading, check out:
The War on Poverty Turns 50: Why aren’t we Winning?, The Atlantic
50 Years Later, War on Poverty Is a Mixed Bag, The New York Times
50 Years After LBJ’s War on Poverty, Center for American Progress and Half in Ten
Chartbook: The War on Poverty at 50, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Commentary: War on Poverty: Large Positive Impact, But More Work Remains, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities