A New War on Poverty

“Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.”

-Lyndon B. Johnson, Commencement Address at the University of Michigan. May 22, 1964

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The vision of poverty in America has changed over the past 50 years. (Photo by Barbara Kinney, taken from TheAtlantic)

In 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson began a series of federal programs designed to advance America’s civil rights and help those in poverty. This “Great Society” aimed to elevate the status of each individual in the country through multiple reforms in areas such as healthcare, education, unemployment, environmental protection, and urban development (The Learning Network). Johnson understood that his plans were long-term and that the problems the nation was facing could not be solved with one quick step. He knew that enacting his programs, including the “War on Poverty,” was not an absolute solution, but one that would have to be continuously worked on and shaped to achieve the perfect society. However, the poverty Johnson and many Americans would have been referring to at the time could be envisioned as poor children living in shacks or the inner cities. Almost 50 years later, this vision of poverty has changed.

Since the 1960s, the world has boasted of how empowered women have become. Yet, in this new picture of poverty, women and their children are the main features. The average citizen in poverty today is a working mother struggling to get to her job while taking care of her children and family that depend on her income. Feelings of empowerment and freedom have little impact on their lives when the idea of getting a traffic ticket or an injury is one more burden on their already tight budget. In the modern world, nearly two-thirds of the minimum wage workers in America are women. Forty percent of all households with children depend mostly or completely on the mother as the source of income. Additionally, full-time female workers still make only 77% of the median earnings of their male counterparts. For this year’s Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, more than 3,000 American adults were polled. Among the poll respondents who were low-income women, the overwhelming majority of them favored changes that would help balance their work and family responsibilities. 87% of low-income women believe that paid sick leaves would be very useful in achieving this balance, and the general public agrees. 73% of Americans agree that the government should ensure that women get equal pay as their male counterparts and be assured affordable childcare for their children.

The average American family has changed from what it was 50 years ago, when Johnson was still envisioning this “Great Society,” with women playing a much more central role in the household than ever before. Our problems in this nation have changed, and so now it’s time for our solutions to change as well. The War on Poverty is not enough to bring the population out of poverty. The government often fails to recognize one factor central to developing these new solutions, which is that a nation cannot maintain economic prosperity without targeting its women and elevating their economic health. With 70% of this nation’s consumer decisions and 80% of the health-care decisions being made by women, there can be no doubt that women have the power to challenge the way our society works. For too long, women have been divided on many issues that have successfully prevented them from coming together to achieve this goal of economic prosperity. In fact, women may not have successfully teamed together in favor of a common goal since the passage of the 19th amendment. However, with the power that the American women undoubtedly hold, all that remains now is utilizing it for a new war on poverty (Maria Shriver, The Atlantic).

by Habiba Fayyaz

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