The war on poverty

April 18, 2014

Over fifty years ago, January 8, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his “War on Poverty” by introducing legislation that expanded the role of the federal government in reducing the level of poverty in America. This powerful legislation created several programs including Head Start, food stamps (SNAP), work study, Community Action Agencies, VISTA, Medicare and Medicaid. For many of us… if we will admit it… can attest that we too benefited from many of these programs. Where would we be today if some of these programs were not there for us?
As you look at it today through history, President Johnson’s leadership and initiative helped to “transform” the nation and paved the way for many Americans and their families to overcome hardships in the midst of a changing society, downturn in the economy, Vietnam War and public protest. These pioneering programs over the past 50 years have stood as life lines, gateways and cornerstones to helping people to remain standing on their feet and afforded them another chance to pursue their American Dream. It also gives us a reminder that there are others in America who do care and are willing to do something about it.
Remarkably, this “War on Poverty” also created new avenues of opportunities through jobs, improved schools, quality education, access to health care for seniors, the poor, and American with disabilities, military veterans and working families. The impact of this kind of “War” has given more benefits and yielded more to the wellbeing of making the nation stronger and remaining a world leader. The addition of the “Affordable Care Act” to this mix on last year goes a long way to ensuring that future will only get brighter.
I do not know if you have noticed or not that over the past few years there are several sides to the debate on what poverty looks like in America. On one side you hear the voices from the far left and conservatives who are giving only lip service of support, but on the other hand their actions are far from helping, especially with attacks on legislation that will undermine the safety net that was intended to help people, children, families and not to hurt them. On another side, you hear the voices from the far right and liberals who are citing and pointing to the legacy of what has been the “blessings” of the legislation. But caught in the middle of this great debate are the people who are the face of what poverty looks like today and it appears that no one is hearing their voices or even asking them the question.
I do not know where you stand on what side of this debate… but all I know is that the “War on Poverty” continues and the frontlines are in our city and neighborhoods. In 2011, Milwaukee was listed as one of American’s 10 most impoverished big cities with a poverty rate of 29.4 percent. It will not get any better unless we lift our “voices” and get involved.
Dr. Andrew Calhoun, can be contacted at, Twitter #AC53, or call 414-571-5015. You can hear Dr. Calhoun each Sunday at Grace Fellowship Church, 3879 N. Port Washington Rd. Milwaukee.