Friday, April 13, 2012

We know what "works" to reduce poverty

My friend Catherine Cusic passed along some additional observations after reading last's Tuesday's post on the working poor.

Not only do poor people survive, one way or another, by working -- but government programs like Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty "work" to help people escape poverty. Econogeeks explain this various ways. Here's Matt Yglesias:

You can see two clear trends here. One is that macroeconomic performance makes a big difference. From 1982 on to the end of the Reagan administration, the poverty rate declined steadily in lockstep with economic growth until along came a new recession.

The other is that policy makes a big difference. During the years of the post-war liberal consensus, poverty went down a lot. And during the Reagan years, poverty never plumbed the depths seen in the seventies or in the Clinton years. And the cause of this relatively high poverty rate even during the Reagan growth years is precisely that Reagan believed the war on poverty had been a failure and did nothing to promote anti-poverty policies.

Ezra Klein put it more directly:

… the "war on poverty" might have failed to kill poverty, but it did a pretty good job wounding it. In 1959, 22.1 percent of Americans were beneath the poverty line. By 1973, 11.1 percent of Americans were impoverished. Medicaid has vastly increased access to health care among the poor. Head Start has done quite a bit to help children born into low-income households.

Catherine lived it:

It is always good to point out the big lie that the "war on poverty failed." In fact it was a great success where applied. Yet whenever any program is proposed for improving the lives of poor people, the halls of congress are filled with howls about how "throwing money at poverty never works. The war on poverty was a failure." All a lie.

I want to add my own personal story. In 1966 I had a 2 year old, a little over a year of college (which, as it was U.C. and then free, I had been able to fund myself.) I wanted to return to college and could have probably done so if I had no dependents. I lived in Watsonville, CA, a rural and very poor area (with the exception of wealthy growers).

What was the miracle that got me back in school? FREE, QUALITY GOVERNMENT FUNDED CHILD CARE! Yes, in Watsonville.

This was the same thing that helped the U.S. be a deciding force in World War II. When you see Rosie the Riveter have you ever wondered about the Rosies that had children? Where were their children? -- they were in Free Child Care! Here is one of those Rosies -- my mother! We know that the greatest predictor for poverty is to be a single mother. Time to start raising the issue of child care, not only for the earning power of the parents but for the health and educational benefits for their children

mom (Trish Cantrell) WWII.jpeg

1 comment:

Kay Dennison said...

Excellent post!!!!

I graduated from high school in that era. My parents divorced my senior year and I was worried about whether I could go to college as we were not rich by any means.

Fortunately, I was an excellent student so I was awarded scholarships and grants from all of the colleges where I applied. And, of course, the ubiquitous student loans.

When my mom and I were going over my award packages, she pointed to an item the read Equal Opportunity Grant and asked "What's that?"

I told her that it was part of the War. She asked, "What War?"

I answered, "LBJ's war on Poverty."

Mom: "Are we poor?"

Moi: "I guess so. I got the grant. (And a scholarship and loans.)"

Those programs made college possible for many people -- maybe even for some of our Congress Critters!!! That said, I wonder how many of them paid their loans back.

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