War On Poverty At 50 Draws Many Eyes

Our Jan. 8 hour marking the 50th Anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of a ‘War On Poverty’ in America featured a variety of takes on the not-so-ceremonial date remembering the former President’s call to end American poverty in a generation.

LBJ didn’t totally wipe out poverty, of course — the latest figures peg American poverty at roughly 15 percent of the total U.S. population, give or take a few points. And that rate is controversial — Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic says we’re wrong to even consider the poverty rate as a mark of economic growth and individual wealth in this country. His colleague, Derek Thompson (a regular on our sister program Here & Now) says the 15 percent rate nevertheless shows we haven’t ‘won’ the war on poverty.

For a more ground-level take on the War on Poverty, NPR reporter Pam Fessler’s pair of stories on Martin County, Ky. — one of many impoverished counties President Johnson visited during his barn storming tour of the country — really bring it home. Her colleage, Mara Liasson, had a great day-after piece tracking the changing politics of poverty throughout U.S. Presidential Administrations of the last 50 years. And Morning Edition’s David Greene had a really delightful conversation with historian and LBJ biographer Robert A. Caro, who made the altogether surprising point that the former President had seen poverty in his own life, making his War on Poverty all the more personal.

Professor Michael Katz of the University of Pennsylvania  offered up this fast and fantastic read on the War on Poverty’s legacy for the Oxford University Press’ blog. Plus, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library is as good a place as any to read up on the history of the Federal anti-poverty campaign.

In the U.S. News & World Report, Danielle Kurtzlebeen points out that 15 percent figure probably misses around six million impoverished Americans, a figure getting a wide work out in academic circles. The very concept of “who counts as poor in America” gets a much-needed write-up in the PBS NewsHour Business Desk by Simone Pathe.

For a more numbers-wonkish approach to poverty rates in America, our guest Melissa Boteach’s work as part of a team at the Center for American Progress is as good a read as any for the history and context of the poverty debate today. A companion report by the C.A.P. on economic opportunity and the social safety net is also a fine read.

A Columbia University study on the poverty line, changes in poverty rates and supplemental insurance policies is a dense but fascinating read for any piqued by our conversation on this anniversary day. And a buzzy New York Times piece by sometimes-On Point guests Annie Lowery and Ashley Parker on efforts by national Republican Party leaders to reclaim fighting poverty as a main political issue in this midterm election year caught our eye this morning as we prepared for the broadcast.

Our suggestions are far from exhausting — on big national policy anniversary days like today, the wealth of media coverage can be overwhelming. Instead, we hope our suggestions offer a nice place to start as you read up on the nitty-gritty details of an issue that’s difficult to grasp.

We want your suggestions, too: what did you read or watch or hear today about the War On Poverty that really made sense to you? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook, Tumblr and @OnPointRadio.

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