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The War on Poverty at 50: Where Are We Now?


by: Emily Cadik

Thu Jan 23, 2014 at 10:00 AM CST


Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty. The poverty rate has indeed dropped since 1964 by somewhere between 4 and 10 percent, depending on the measure used. But we are still left with an unacceptable poverty rate of 16 percent. We may have won some battles, but we haven't won the war.

In addition to the poverty rate itself, the face of poverty has changed. Looking back over the past five decades, the Pew Research Center has taken a look at who is poor in America these days. Some highlights:

  • The share of poor Americans who are working age (between 18 and 64) has increased 15 percent in the past 50 years, from 42 to 57 percent.

  • Meanwhile, the share of elderly poor has declined, so that it's down to 9 percent from over 30 percent, pointing to the overwhelming success of safety net programs for the elderly like Medicare and Social Security.

  • Though the poverty rate among children is lower than it was 50 years ago, it has increased dramatically in the past decade so that it's now over 21 percent. That's more than one in five kids living in poverty.

  • Though the poverty rate among African Americans is still roughly twice what it is for whites, it has declined 15 percent in the past 50 years. Meanwhile, more than half of the 22 million-person increase in poverty in the past several decades has been among Hispanics.

So how does Texas fare? Find out after the jump.

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Though poverty is fairly evenly distributed around the country, it's most highly concentrated in the South - where a full 41 percent of poor Americans live.

And despite having a strong and growing economy, Texas has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation at 18 percent. Though the rate in Texas has declined over the past year, it is still significantly higher than the national average.

What's worse is the child poverty rate in Texas, which has increased by 47 percent from 2000 to 2011. That puts the child poverty rate at 27 percent - again one of the worst in the nation. According Frances Deviney, Texas Kids Count director at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, "Poverty is not destiny, but it certainly puts kids off on the wrong foot." These issues are then compounded by the ongoing resistance to health care and disinvestment in schools at the state level.

It's hard to imagine how much higher the poverty rate would be without the programs that have root in the War on Poverty, like Social Security and food stamps. But we clearly still have a long way to go.



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