50 years of the 'war on poverty'
January 12th, 2014
11:54 AM ET
6 months ago

Lawmakers agree poverty level is high, disagree on how to solve it

Washington (CNN) - Nearly 50 million. That’s how many Americans are living in poverty today. It’s an obvious problem, but unfortunately without an obvious solution.

President Barack Obama last week announced economic “Promise Zones,” aimed at hard-hit areas, where the administration is trying to attract investments for improving job creation, education, affordable housing and overall economic security.

Still, 50 years after President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his “war on poverty,” the poverty rate remains high, and lawmakers in Washington are still debating what could be potential solutions.

America's longest war

That debate continued on “Fox News Sunday” with Reps. Steve Southerland, R-Florida, and Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland.

On the Democratic side of the debate, Van Hollen said investments must be made by the government in infrastructure both to improve it and to create construction jobs for those who are out of work. Van Hollen suggested a rise in the federal minimum wage and an endorsement of those “Promise Zones.”

"The President's ‘Promise Zones’ are part of an overall strategy to try and get the economy going and have more broadly shared prosperity," Van Hollen said.

Obama turns personal at 'Promise Zones' announcement

But on the Republican side, Southerland said the government can only do so much in situations like these. He suggested maintaining two-parent households and having more parental involvement in school to help lift families out of poverty.

Southerland also suggested that renewing federal long-term unemployment insurance, which expired last year, might actually do more harm than good.

"Last July, North Carolina's emergency unemployment ended and since then they've created 35,000 jobs and the unemployment rate has gone from 8.9(%) to 7.4(%),” Southerland said.

Rubio wades into poverty politics with call for more state control

“Let's learn from that. Let's learn how we can apply it on a more broad scale, because Republicans believe we've got to get this economy moving. Because when you get the economy moving, investors, job creators are going to do what they do best.”

But Van Hollen called out Republicans and in particular Sen. Rand Paul, who says unemployment insurance is a detriment.

“They take the insulting position that these people are just sitting back and taking unemployment compensation,” Van Hollen said.

Rep. Paul Ryan gives U.S. a 'failing grade' in war on poverty

Republicans say they must have spending cuts to offset the cost of a renewal of unemployment insurance. Democrats originally balked at the proposal, but there are now some signs of concession.

Regardless, poverty remains an issue bigger than any one piece of legislation or economic proposal - and for tens of millions of Americans, a daily fact of life.


Filed under: Chris Van Hollen • Economy
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. simplyput

    If you've never had a job, it's hard to agree on what work actually is. Problem is at the top, people. We just outsourced about one sixth of our economy. Globalization has destroyed our jobs. Don't need many dead presidents to understand that. I grew up under LBJ, and things were GREAT compared to this.

    January 12, 2014 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  2. rs

    Historically speaking, no side of the political spectrum has succeeded here. The Left under Johnson began making inroads against poverty- and that began slowing under Nixon, and quickly vanishing under Reagan, and today's Republicans who are so looney they'd kill off Social Security- the single greatest anti-poverty program in the U.S. (started under FDR).
    So we know the Left didn't make it work in the time they had, and we know the Right's "trickle Down" economics works great (at transferring wealth to the richest Americans)- but does nothing for the poor, and moves the Middle Class into poverty.
    The simple reality is we had the strongest Middle Class ever when unions were viable, when the minimum wage went into effect and when the top tax rate was well above 80%. The rich didn't get hurt at all, business flourished, the middle class got to buy homes and cars and sent their kids to college, and we had far fewer poor.
    The situation today is the very logical result of building a hyper wealthy class (where corporate bosses make 475 times what their lowest full-time employees make, Germany has a 12 times ratio for comparison), which has corrupted the Right, and uses the Right to keep wages artificially low, destroy unions and essentially create an indentured working class.
    Time for a change!

    January 12, 2014 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  3. Tampa Tim

    Paul Ryan and his mother were fortunate to have that social safety net when his father passed away. But, he was really lucky that the republicans did not control congress at that time.

    January 12, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  4. Gunderson

    Howszat?
    The Liberal solution, for the last 100 years has been what? Tax and Spend. Mostly Spend. Now over 17 Trillion. So why are we no closer than we were in the 1930's? Well it was a good idea maybe. Those that don't learn from their mistakes are bound to repeat them. Welfare belongs in the States not the Federal Government. The Red Ink that is out there is no joke. The Mills of the God's grind slowly. What was it? Something Aesop wrote about long ago about the Tortuse and the Hare.

    January 12, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  5. GonzoinHouston

    Our economy is still in the doldrums because the middle class has been strangled. We are a consumer-based economy and the middle class is the largest consumer. Over the last 15+ years, the net worth of the middle class has barely held even, while the net worth of the top few percent has gone up spectacularly. This means that all the newly-created wealth has gone to just a few people, and that is recipe for stagnation.

    To paraphrase James Carville, (and please pardon my caps lock) IT'S THE MIDDLE CLASS, DUMMY!

    January 12, 2014 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    I can hardly wait to turn money over the States, especially the ones who need it the most, so their corrupt
    Governors can spend it on balancing their budgets, buying votes and padding their pockets.
    The poor will still be poor........

    rs is absolutely right. Johnson announced his 'war on poverty' 50 years ago, but it was only pursued for 6 years.

    Republicans dropped the ball...........intentionally. Now they are concerned? No, or they wouldn't be tryting to
    take away the plans that help lift them up.

    January 12, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  7. Gurgyl

    Time to RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGE, MAKE STRONG DOLLAR BY GETTING MANUFACTURE BACK. I don't think you solve out of T'Shirt selling jobs or burger flipping jobs. Bring call-center jobs, manufacturing. Produce energy-efficient light bulbs at cheaper prices.

    January 12, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  8. Tampa Tim

    Gunny – as much as I know this will be a waste of time, the majority of our debt occurred under republican presidents. Unfunded unnecessary wars, trickle down economics, unfunded tax cuts, unfunded drug programs, TARP, tax breaks for big oil, etc.

    January 12, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  9. Sheila

    as long as this country continues to send money to third world countries, and corrupt governments, in addition to other countries, and to help them constantly, year IN and year OUT, this country will continue to look like a 3rd world country, as far as poverty goes. The U.S. should be receiving FREE OIL from Libya & IRAQ, for all the blood & treasure we traded off (or sacrificed) for years to come, for Free, for years to come. This includes countries such as Afghanistan & etc & etc

    January 12, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  10. drake mallard

    Like Marco Rubio did Paul likes to leave out important facts about his so call hard years. Mrs. Ryan lost her husband but continued to live the same life style. Yes the Ryan Family used Social Security checks but Mr. Ryan left his family financially well off. Using Federal funds Mrs. Ryan went to school and the taxpayers paid for it. Married life is great and money is no problem like the Romneys. Paul Ryan and wife who is a Health Care Lobbyist have a plan ending Medicaid to seniors and health care to women.. Ryan sees no problem with women dying from cancer and even his Catholic Church and Nuns say Paul sounds more like Satan in his views.

    January 12, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  11. drake mallard

    House Republicans passed a nutrition bill that eliminates $39 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps. Nearly 47 million Americans currently rely on SNAP - roughly 15 percent of the population - and 17.6 million U.S. households are considered food insecure, which means they aren't sure where their next meal will come from. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture , nearly 17 million of these people are children, 5 million are seniors and 300,000 are elderly veterans.

    And despite prevailing racial stereotypes, which first became mainstream during President Ronald Reagan's tenure and his propagation of the myth of a "welfare queen" from the South Side of Chicago, the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients are white. And curiously, many of them are Republicans. USDA data show that in 2011, 37 percent of food stamp user were from white, non-Hispanic households.

    What is most curious is that this isn't surprising. The poorest states in the union tend to be the most reliably red

    January 12, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  12. drake mallard

    Of course, Paul Ryan would say it is a failure.

    Ryan is not that popular so Wisconsin is not a given. Paul Ryan also took advantage of the very programs he's determined to end and make no mistake, Ryan is ambitious and doesn't care about the middle class. His sights are set much higher.
    Ryan may be, as he has said himself, “ashamed of his Bush years,” but this is not the narrative on the campaign trail. There is hardly a whisper about how Ryan helped the Bush administration run up deficits. He seems to have wholeheartedly followed Dick Cheney’s witticism “deficits don’t matter.”

    January 12, 2014 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  13. Long

    Why all the fuss about poverty? We have the LOWEST unemployment rate in FIVE years (even though it was accomplished by having the lowest employment participation in thirty years and the December jobs report didn't even come close to predictions). The Obamabomic economy is strong and doing well!

    January 12, 2014 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  14. Name

    Bring jobs back to america by ending globalization, raise taxes
    On companies who outsource to where it's more cost effective to keep jobs here.LEgalize marijuana.make 3d printing more available , tax the rich no less than 20% ,close all loopholes make the tax codes black and white no bs set terms for lawmakers decrease their income it's a public service job they shouldn't be millionaires

    January 12, 2014 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  15. ThinkAgain - If you want Congress to actually do something FOR the American people, vote OUT the Repub/tea bag majority

    Yes, the War on Poverty hasn't eliminated poverty in the U.S. – but is has greatly reduced it. Like any program over time, it needs to be tweaked and tuned along the way.

    The thing to remember is this: GOP policies are what created the need for a War on Poverty in the first place; the last thing we need to do is go back to them.

    January 12, 2014 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  16. ThinkAgain - If you want Congress to actually do something FOR the American people, vote OUT the Repub/tea bag majority

    @GonzoinHouston: Thank you for your post; succinct and right on target.

    January 12, 2014 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  17. g

    Republicans = no middle class

    January 12, 2014 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  18. ThinkAgain - If you want Congress to actually do something FOR the American people, vote OUT the Repub/tea bag majority

    @Gunderson: Repubs are the ones who create deficits, with their tax cutting during military build-up (Reagan) or during wartime (GW Bush).

    You guys always tank the economy – just look at the historical record. Why? Because you favor the wealthy few over the rest of our country. Gone are the days when the rich created jobs here in the U.S.; they would rather suck our nation dry to finance their global expansion into countries where the labor is cheap and environmental regulations don't exist.

    If you like that model so much, I suggest you go live as an average person in China – where in Beijing you have to wear a mask to breathe through the smog, where poisons are regularly put into products, where the average person works for slave wages and the environment is being horribly degraded.

    Do that for a year or two and then report back on how wonderful it is.

    January 12, 2014 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  19. ThinkAgain - If you want Congress to actually do something FOR the American people, vote OUT the Repub/tea bag majority

    All this States rights talk is just a bluff by the GOP to further balkanize our country. If the Red states had track records of success, that'd be one thing; but overall, they don't: Their per-capita income tends to be lower than Blue states; they have higher high school drop-out rates and teen pregnancy rates; they tend to take more federal money than they contribute.

    We need to work together – a concept totally foreign to the current incarnation of the GOP. They either knowingly or stupidly believe that if we can just put all the money and power into the hands of the corporate oligarchs, we'll be fine – all evidence to the contrary in the history of the world that that has EVER produced broad-based, sustainable economic and social stability.

    January 12, 2014 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  20. Name jk. Sfl. GOP CRUZ lee&rubio 24billion dallar LOSS of your tax money conservatives,the garbage of America.

    The GOP morons continue to say they will do EVERYTHING to eliminate poverty as long as it doesn't cost ANY money

    January 12, 2014 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  21. Marie MD

    Start with taxing the rich who are the ones hiding their money off shire and are sending our Americans jobs overseas (just ask the twit) then make sure jefes like the guy from papa John's (good friend of the twit) and the zillionaires like the walmart crowd, among others, pay a decent living wage to their employees.

    January 12, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |