This week celebrates the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty." While it has been lambasted by Republicans for years as a failure, as Socialism, or any number of other things, the fact remains that many see the War on Poverty as a successful campaign that has significantly helped those at the lowest level of our economic ladder. Today, we are still fighting against raging poverty, and there are still those who argue against these measures as a way to safeguard the American People.
Johnson's War on Poverty ushered in new programs and government offices designed to help the lower class have a minimum level of support. Whether employed or not, the argument went, Americans should be able to feed and clothe their children, access medical services, and have other basic essentials. Today, we continue to debate how best to help those who struggle.
Republicans often push for training and education programs, and advocate strongly for cutting direct support for the poor. Democrats are almost entirely devoted to the idea of direct support for the needy, and have protected those types of programs for decades.
As we move forward, new challenges will always arise and we must answer them. If we can train people to become skilled workers in our society, then we should. If we can make sure that people make a livable wage for the work they do, then we should. But no matter how many incentive we have, no matter how much we encourage people and push them and try to support them, there will be those who need direct help.
Our politicians are not poor, and it is hard to imagine them understanding what that's like. They have the authority to help those in need, but it sometimes seems like they have no idea what those in need are really dealing with. In their budget reports, it all comes down to dollars and cents. There's no human face on what they are trying to accomplish.
I hope that we can find a way to balance how we support those in poverty, give them the tools to survive, the incentive to strive, and the support to make themselves better. If we can do that, we will be one step closer to winning the war on poverty that was started half a century ago.
UPDATE: A lot more stories have come out about this anniversary, including a great post from Paul Krugman, and this from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Take a look.