Jan 10 2014

How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty

Fifty years ago this week President Lyndon B. Johnson, during his State of the Union address, launched the so-called War on Poverty, pushing for legislation to lower the whopping 19% poverty rate at the time. Months later, that legislation was passed and signed, and became known as the Poverty bill. It established the Office of Economic Opportunity and emphasized health care and education as pathways to end poverty as well community action programs. At the same time, programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Headstart were established, and bills like the Food Stamp Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act were passed.

But in the decades following the bill, the push for deregulation under Reagan and then Clinton, took aim at many welfare programs, gutting many of them wholesale. Today only a fraction of the original programs launched in 1964 remain active, making the success of the “war on poverty” hard to measure.

Today the poverty rate in the US hovers at about 15 percent. Progressives see the surviving anti-poverty policies as staving off even greater poverty, while conservatives point say the numbers prove that the programs have failed.

GUEST: Jill Quadagno, Professor of Sociology at Florida State University where she holds the Mildred and Claude Pepper Eminent Scholar Chair in Social Gerontology, Author of several books on social policy including The Transformation of Old Age Security: Class and Politics in the American Welfare State, The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty, and One Nation, Uninsured : Why the U.S. Has No National Health Insurance

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