“Unconditional War on Poverty” Marks 50 Years

By Leah Albright, Central Pennsylvania Community Action

On Jan. 8, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an “Unconditional War on Poverty.”

This declaration renewed the national commitment to fighting poverty through targeted programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, Pell Grants, expansions to Social Security and nutrition assistance. As well it created the National Community Action network, that is celebrating 50 years of service from 1964-2014.

In 1964, the national poverty rate was 28.5 percent and today it is 16 percent. Although this rate is still high, there is evidence that the United States is ‘moving forward.’

The latest recession has affected the state of poverty in the United States once again. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 31.6 percent of Americans were in poverty for at least two months from 2009 to 2011. Poverty was a brief state for most people; however, 3.5 percent of Americans were in poverty for the entire three-year period.

For many others, poverty was a persistent condition; among the 37.6 million people who were poor at the start of the recession, 26.4 percent remained poor throughout the next 34 months.

However, many people escaped poverty: 12.6 million, or 35.4 percent, who were poor in 2009 were not in poverty in 2011. Though some moved out of poverty about 13.5 million people who were not in poverty in 2009 slipped into poverty by 2011.

The percentage of individuals experiencing a poverty spell lasting at least two months increased from 27.1 percent over the period of 2005 to 2007 to 31.6 percent from 2009 to 2011. Chronic poverty rates (poor all 36 months) also increased, from 3.0 percent over the prerecession period to 3.5 percent from 2009 to 2011.

According to a study conducted by the Center for American Progress, Americans strongly believe that poverty is primarily the result of a failed economy rather than the result of personal decisions and lack of effort. In a choice of ideas, nearly two in three Americans agree more with a structural argument about the causes of poverty.

Therefore, the American public will support efforts to expand economic opportunity, increase access to good jobs and wages and maintain a healthy social safety net. Negative attitudes about the poor that were common in political discussions throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s have changed to public recognition that many Americans—poor and middle class alike—are facing numerous pressures trying to stay afloat and get ahead in the difficult economic environment.

It is time for a renewed national commitment to reduce poverty. “Half in Ten,” a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the Coalition on Human Needs and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, believes there’s a need to set and work toward a national goal of cutting poverty in half in 10 years.

To get there, there needs to be an investment agenda that addresses the needs of 21st century America and the demands of a global economy. It is time to raise the minimum wage, close the gender pay gap and create better-quality jobs. It is time to invest in work and income supports that cut poverty and expand economic opportunity and learn from local initiatives that work at the cutting edge of poverty reduction. By creating a strong economy where gains are more equitably shared and committing to programs and policies that work, poverty can be cut in half in the next 10 years and usher in a new era of shared economic prosperity.

Central Pennsylvania Community Action (CPCA)’s mission is “strengthening our communities by helping families and individuals in Centre and Clearfield counties to become self-sufficient.” The CPCA was started out of the “War on Poverty” in 1965 and officially incorporated in December of 1967.

Centre and Clearfield counties have approximately 42,638 people living in poverty. Of those in poverty in Centre and Clearfield counties, 6,979 are under 18 years old and 1,925 are over 65 years old. As well the median income for the United States is $53,046 and $52,267 for Pennsylvania.  Centre County’s median income is only $49,706 and Clearfield County’s median income is even lower at $40,768.

The CPCA is still striving to meet the call of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Unconditional War on Poverty” here in the community. The CPCA’s primary services include housing services, weatherization, rental housing, case management, food services, heating and utility assistance, employment assistance and training, consumer information and referral, and transportation services.

For more information on CPCA programs, please call CPCA at 814-765-1551 or 800-822-2610.


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One thought on ““Unconditional War on Poverty” Marks 50 Years

  1. Tax Paying Member

    I would like to reference a recent radio broadcast by Gov. Mike Huckabee:

    “It was 50 years ago this week that President Lyndon Johnson declared a “War on Poverty” in his first State of the Union Address.” So…have we won it yet? Since 1963, we’ve spent trillions of dollars to fight poverty, but we still have poor people. You could even argue that after racking up $17 trillion in debt, ALL of us are impoverished. Of course, a middle class suburbanite in 1963 couldn’t have dreamed of owning the cars, TVs, smart phones and other luxuries that most of those considered poor have now. But if we’ve spent 50 years and trillions of dollars on a war on poverty, why is poverty still here? Because most of the money goes to support a permanent bureaucracy to subsidize poverty. As Robert Rector notes in the Wall Street Journal, there are 80 federal means-tested welfare programs to provide things to the poor. If we converted their budgets into cash and sent a check to every poor American we could eliminate poverty and still have 80 percent of the money left over. Ironically, poverty may be the only problem government COULD do a better job of solving if they just threw money at it.”

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