Wednesday, July 3, 2013

War on Poverty Cold

Remember the War on Poverty?  It was "officially declared" in 1964 by LBJ in response to 19% of the United States living below the poverty level, which at that time for a family of four was around $3,200.  Poverty reduction initiatives were started in education and healthcare to increase class mobility and create a floor for basic medical services.

Many say the War on Poverty was officially called off in 1996 when President Bill Clinton "ended welfare as we know it" with the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, entrenching the constructs of meritocracy and disdain for the poor that continue to the present.  As NPR's This American Life found, "ending welfare" really only shifted the financial burden to Social Security Disability, with true-red states like Alabama having 1 in 4 working age adults on disability.  These States ruthlessly cut their welfare budgets and silently shift the scales to the federal payroll, all the while shaking their fist at the intrusive tentacles of Uncle Sam.

But about that "War on Poverty" -- according to recent studies we still have 15% of all Americans living below the poverty level.  With all of the success we've had in other areas of modern society, and opportunities on both sides of the political spectrum from Reagan to Obama, we've only improved our poverty rate by four percent.  The poverty level in 2012 was $23,681 for a family of four and $15,374 for a two-person household.

That's nationwide.  Imagine the poverty level here in Maryland.  The National National Low Income Housing Coalition has ranked Maryland as having the 5th most expensive "housing wage" in the Country at $24.47/hour for a two-bedroom apartment.  The reconfigures what "minimum wage" actually means.

Listen to where your thoughts went when you read that -- "They can live somewhere else."  It is a very human, very sympathetic, response to poverty.  Removal, exclusion, then support.  Many have argued that the War on Drugs was a continuation of the War on Poverty by other means.  We separate the poor from the middle class in ways that are not seen between the middle class and the wealthy (or every the wealthy and the super-wealthy).  "Poor" is an accepted term of permanence in a way that "middle class" is not.

I would respectfully suggest that the boot-straps ladder climbing of yesterday's generations is much harder to come by.  "Living Wage" jobs in manufacturing no longer exist, pushing working parents into two to three jobs at a time just to get by.  This cycle then interferes with the education their child receives a home, crippling potential.  Even those for whom college education would be a viable option face costs that would have been laughed at even 10 years ago.  Go on to college and live the rest of your life in tremendous debt or go directly into the workforce and live the rest of your life with little chance of improving your station in life.  Take two 8-hour jobs.  Start a family.  Rinse.  Repeat.

The War on Poverty has gone cold.  We still maintain the missile silos and standing armies, but the aggression is gone.  Taking on the issue is considered extreme, socialist, and futile.  Funny how wasted potential isn't.  Funny how we aren't ashamed by our failures.  Funny how we aren't inspired to pick this banner up and end poverty as we know it.

Want to take a first step?  Howard County is looking for citizens to serve on the Housing and Community Development Board.  If not us, who?  If not now, when? 

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!  Rock on.