When President Lyndon Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty” in his State of the Union address, 50 years ago this week, the official poverty rate was 19 percent.
Last year, it stood at 15 percent. And so the war goes on.
What that official measure of poverty fails to capture are other, harder-to-quantify successes, according to Ann Huff Stevens, economics professor and director of the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research.
“Because we now provide a substantial number of low-income families with Medicaid, with health insurance for their children, with food stamp nutrition support, with school lunch, we see improvement in the health of the poor people,” Stevens said.
In the 50 years since Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson declared “an unconditional war on poverty,” the United States has gained ground in some areas of the fight and lost in others. Income disparity between rich and poor Americans has increased, while programs like food stamps and unemployment insurance have made a huge difference in reducing poverty rates.
One of the initiatives signed by Johnson during his presidency is the School Breakfast Program. While it isn’t responsible for decreases in poverty, it has successfully fed hungry children and increased learning in poor areas of America. Joining us with an evaluation of the School Breakfast Program is Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Iowa David Frisvold, who is speaking at a UC Davis “War on Poverty” conference Thursday.
During the tail end of the recession and its aftermath, nearly a third of Americans suffered bouts of poverty lasting two months or more, the U.S. Census Bureau found in a newly released report.
“The fact that someone comes out of poverty for a few months should not lead us to conclude that poverty is not chronic,” said Ann Stevens, director of the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research. Though only 3.5% of Americans were poor throughout the entire period from 2009 to 2011, Stevens said, other research suggests many more bobbed in and out of poverty.
50 years ago today, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the war on poverty. This “war” was meant to help the nearly 1 in 5 Americans who were poor.
Half a century later, after the country’s great recession, the number of people living below the line hasn’t gone down by much. That reality is also reflected here, where Californians tend to struggle more than the rest of the country.
For more we’re joined by Ann Huff Stevens, director of the Center for Poverty Research at UC-Davis.
On Dec. 28, right between Christmas and New Year’s, federal emergency unemployment compensation will expire, taking away the last form of jobless aid available to more than 3,000 long-term unemployed workers here in Maine. By the middle of next year, an additional 9,000 Mainers and their families will be left without any form of jobless assistance.
The Center for Poverty Research found that since 2009, unemployment insurance has been responsible for a 25 percent reduction in poverty among children with an unemployed parent.
Three days after Christmas, 1.3 million Americans will lose their unemployment insurance benefits after Republicans in Congress choose not to extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which provides jobless benefits beyond the traditional 26 weeks.
Additionally, “a recent study by the Center for Poverty Research found that since 2009, unemployment insurance has been responsible for a 25 percent reduction in poverty among children who have had an unemployed parent.” Now children in similar circumstances will have to endure life below the poverty line.
An alternative method of measuring poverty revealed that California is the most impoverished state in the country, with nearly a quarter of its residents living below the poverty line due mostly to housing costs.
Under the study, a household of two adults and two children earning less than about $35,000 would be considered below the poverty line, said Ann Stevens, director for the Center for Poverty Research at UC Davis. That number was increased from just over $23,000 used in the official poverty measure in 2012.
“It is almost entirely the cost of housing that is used to make the adjustment,” Stevens said. “It draws attention to the combination of the resources that Californians have and the costs that they face.”
A new way of measuring poverty reveals California has by far the biggest share of people in economic despair, eclipsing states such as Mississippi and Louisiana, when housing and other costs are factored.
The alternative yardstick, known as the supplemental poverty measure, found nearly 2.8 million more people are struggling across the country than the traditional benchmark shows.
“Anyone who has moved to California from somewhere else knows the dramatic increase of the cost of living,” said Ann Stevens, director for the Center for Poverty Research at UC Davis. “It’s not more surprising that California looks more impoverished. It is really driven by the cost of housing. California is a very expensive place to live.”
“Even if the economy was rebounding, I don’t think the official poverty statistics show it that much,” said Ann Stevens, an economics professor who directs the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research.
Unemployment insurance gives many down-on-their-luck Americans enough income to stay above the poverty line, but Stevens said the official poverty measurements don’t count food stamps, housing assistance and other programs that help people survive but don’t give them cash income.
“They’re likely to be used to say, look, the war on poverty isn’t working,” Stevens said of the latest numbers. “We know these programs do have benefits, they just don’t show up in these basic statistics.”