Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon B. Johnson used his State of the Union address to declare “unconditional war on poverty” in America. “Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom,” President Johnson said in 1964:
These now-famous words gave rise to the passage of fundamental civil rights legislation and programs like Head Start and Medicare, helping to expand economic opportunity, improve access to education, build a social safety net and keep millions of families out of poverty. At the time and in the decades that followed, the Ford Foundation played a key role in establishing and advancing many of the ideas and initiatives that led to essential (though incomplete) progress in reducing poverty. Today, fighting inequality remains at the root of all of our work.
The Center for American Progress has just issued a thoughtful report, “The War on Poverty: Then and Now,” that looks at lessons learned from the past five decades and the opportunities we have to continue to advance opportunity and shared prosperity today. “The War on Poverty has not failed us, but our economy has,” the authors write, calling for a renewed national commitment to reduce poverty.
This week has seen a wealth of smart coverage and analysis published to coincide with the anniversary. Here’s just some of what we’ve been reading:
- At CNN, historian Stephanie Coontz explains why the war on poverty isn’t over.
- From The New York Times, why the war on poverty is “a mixed bag.”
- The Chronicle of Philanthropy looks at the legacy of Ford-funded community-action agencies, “probably the most astonishing product of the Johnson anti-poverty programs.”
- And from Paul Krugman: “If progress against poverty has been disappointing over the past half century, the reason is not the decline of the family but the rise of extreme inequality.”