(Third in an editorial series)
There are those of us who are old enough to remember President Lyndon Johnson declaring a war on poverty in 1964.
It was an ambitious initiative that raised hopes and expectations.
“Our goal,” Johnson said in his State of the Union post that year, “is not just to alleviate the system of poverty, but to heal it, and most importantly, to prevent it.” .
Fifty-seven years later, there continues to be much debate, largely ideological, about the level of success of the war. There is little debate that he ushered in the welfare state, for better or for worse.
The numbers seem to suggest he’s been successful in helping alleviate some of America’s poverty. At the time, the official poverty rate in the United States was 19%. The latest estimates from the US Census Bureau put it at 10.5%.
These figures are subject to debate, of course. Different agencies cite different numbers. And they’re all based on how you define poverty.
Currently, the official definition in Illinois is $ 26,246 or less for a family of four. Or if that’s not easy enough to figure out, $ 16,910 for a two-person household.
Can you imagine living at this income level? No doubt that would count as being poor. The question is how much more should be done to truly escape poverty.
Compared to 19%, the figure of 10.5% appears to be a significant improvement. But remember, that still means more than one in 10 Americans live in poverty, the official version, and many more are trying to make ends meet just beyond that line.
In Chicago, 20.6% of the population lives in poverty, according to wellinfo.org. That’s one in five, over half a million people. The percentage is even higher in disadvantaged communities. And nearly one in three public school students comes from a poor home.
Beyond our simple altruistic concern for others, we must focus on reducing and eliminating poverty if we are truly to do anything about violent crime. This must be a top priority. We all have an interest in it.
Violent crimes are most often born out of despair, poverty and despair. The links are indisputable.
Studies indicate that poverty increases stress, mental illnesses, drug use and the attractiveness of street gangs. It limits feelings of self-worth. The impact on academic success is high. The distractions that economic uncertainty imposes on parents are significant.
All of these things are factors that not only undermine the health of the community, but also contribute to violent crime.
The war on poverty is not easy to win, but it must continue – for the good not only of the poor, but for the good of all of us.