War on Poverty Remembered

Photograph by AP Photo

President Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, center left, leave the home in Inez, Ky., of Tom Fletcher, a father of eight who told Johnson he’d been out of work for nearly two years, in this April 24, 1964, file photo.

“Daddy was a conservative,” said Lynda Johnson Robb, LBJ’s daughter, at a congressional commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his “War on Poverty” at the Capitol Visitor Center this morning.

“He wasn’t for handouts, he was for hand ups,” she said, adding that her father, Lyndon Baines Johnson, wanted to turn people dependent on welfare programs into “taxpayers, not tax eaters.”

She recalled that in 1964, the year Johnson declared an unconditional war on poverty in America,  ”20 percent of our people were living in poverty. By the time daddy left office, that number was down to 12.”

Robb emphasized that her father was able to garner support from across the aisle for his anti-poverty initiatives. “It was a bipartisan issue. A third of the Republicans in the Senate voted for it.”

No Republicans attended today’s news conference and reception, which was organized by the Democratic leadership. (Some made their own views known in other ways today — see below.)

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat, said  she hopes the anniversary is  ”an inspiration” to her Republican colleagues to extend unemployment benefits, which she said are “vital.” The Senate voted 60-37 this week to advance a bill extending benefits, but House leaders oppose it.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, wasn’t optimistic about the current state of economic inequality. “Disparity of income has worsened,” she said, citing as an example the fact that most CEOs make 300 to 400 times more than their workers today.

“One of the things we can do right off the bat is extend unemployment benefits and raise the minimum wage,” Pelosi said.

While six Republicans have voted to advance the unemployment bill in the Senate, it faces serious opposition in the Republican-run House.

Over the next 50 days, members of Congress will be delivering 50 speeches on poverty to mark the anniversary.

 

The White House Council of Economic Advisers reports that the war goes on — though poverty has declined by more than one-third since 1967: from a rate of 25.8 percent in the U.S. that year to 16 percent in 2012.

”Spells of poverty” have affected 31.6 percent of all Americans since the last recession, the Census Bureau reports.

 

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