Fifty years ago Lyndon B. Johnson declared War on Poverty. Great strides were made. Between 1964 and 1965 Medicaid and Medicare were enacted, food stamps made permanent, a flurry of work and volunteer grants were passed, and educational opportunities were made more egalitarian. Unfortunately later administrations have been tearing apart Johnson's weapons against poverty one by one. The War on Poverty is lost, not because Johnson's programs were flawed, but because later administrations simply capitulated and worse, joined the other side to wipe out America's middle class.
Let's look at the track record. The reality is social safety nets have saved millions of Americans. Without social security, food stamps and Medicare, poverty would be 31% instead of the official 15% it is today. Medicare alone is estimated to have saved millions of lives. As it is, the minute people turn 65, there is a 20% reduction in deaths for the seriously ill. Before Medicare people 65 and over were being financially ruined with high medical bills. Only 56% had any health insurance at all. By the 1980's, after Medicare was enacted, the poverty rates for the elderly went from down dramatically Yet, Republicans have been after cutting Medicare and Medicaid ever since.
FDR started the war on poverty and through his labor secretary Francis Perkins, enacted much of the social safety net which has saved America today. Social security alone reduced elder poverty from 44% to 9%.
Now it is fifty years later, and income inequality is at 3rd world nation levels in America. The economic recovery in truth only happened for the top 1%. A whopping 43.9% of America will fall into complete financial ruin if they lose their jobs or have a medical crisis in less than three months. It is estimated that 80% of America will suffer poverty at some point during their lives.
What happened from the days of FDR and LBJ is the Republican party. They latched onto a philosophy, not based in fact, that justifies giving to the rich and leaving the poor and middle class hung out to dry. Just recently the Census released their report on America's well being and the facts are astounding. Millions moved into poverty from the great recession. While we don't have the statistics, last tally of indicators implies people are staying in poverty. In other words, the middle class is becoming extinct.
The report covers the great recession and what happened to people from January 2009 to December 2011. . During this time period 31.6% of America was in poverty for at least two months, a 27.1% increase from 2005 to 2007. Those in poverty for the entire three year time period increased 3.0%. By the end of 2011, 5.4% more people who were O.K. before 2009 now were poor. Lest you think these poverty rates are temporary, the report shows people simply have not recovered.
Of individuals in poverty in 2009, 12.6 million (35.4 percent) were not in poverty in 2011, but approximately half of those who exited poverty continued to have income less than 150 percent of their poverty threshold.
The GOP has attacked and attacked social safety nets and even wants to take food assistance away. The recent worst is Congress denying extending unemployment benefits right before Christmas. The Senate actually passed an extension after they turned from vacation and negotiations with the House GOP are in the works. Still the act of throwing people in need of help under the bus continues to be a long arching goal of the GOP and there are many Republicans saying the most heartless things that are also not based in economic statistical reality about the disabled, the sick and the poor.
Many wrote on the state of the middle class during the War on Poverty's 50th Anniversary. Yet the spin is in as many promote policies which will make the problem worse. From the left we get the lie corporate controlled massive immigration increases will magically not negatively impact the U.S. labor market for American workers. There are also many who outright deny the negative impact trade deals has had on American jobs. On the right, there are outright lies that social security is running out of money, or that somehow America should turn Medicare into a for profit, private medical system and the infamous never ceasing lie that a strong minimum wage is bad for job creation.
There are a couple of things about FDR and LBJ's administrations that are no longer true today. Back then, the corruption was so much less in government. They actually managed, were good administrators, cared and bothered to take the public trust seriously. They were practical and crafted solutions based on fact and statistics, unlike today. Yet the War on Poverty anniversary brought political spin instead of legislation and policy. Pundits and politicians pounded on their bully pulpits trying to spin a stack of corporate and special interest agendas as good for the nation policy. They say bold faced lies without even a blink. Not even a cringe of empathy occurs as politicians and pundits continue their bombardment on working America, that somehow destroying citizens' lives is good and their full frontal attack on the middle class and poor is somehow help. It is upside down politics where the effort goes into convincing America red is blue and their dismantling of social safety nets is somehow beneficial. One would think the greatest generation are rolling over in their graves with outrage the air is so thick with lies. How embarrassing for America to see the only real action on this special day be to lies and spin.
The title of this article takes Ronald Reagan's famous declaration poverty won and spins it on it's head for a reason. The war on poverty was lost simply because corrupt and wrong headed politicians cut and want to destroy further America's social safety net. The only real way to win the war on poverty is through government and policy. We must have social safety nets, a progressive tax structure, strong unions, job protection, higher education cost reduction, grants and subsidies for work opportunities and most of all jobs for U.S. citizens. Spinning the anniversary of such an important initiative as reducing poverty in the richest nation on earth into some sort of endorsement for their austerity, privatization and globalization agenda is just spitting on the grave of LBJ.
Thousands marching toward poverty every day...
When we, along with the Russians and others liberated the prison camps in Germany, the townspeople tried to say they didn't know. Yet there were railcars full of dead bodies, those who had been allowed to starve to death on the edges of town. You could smell the stench from the thousands of dead bodies in the camps wafting over the towns. They knew. And I think if most Americans think about it, they know damn good and well that one person can't live on Social Security today, even with Medicare, and if there are two one will often have enough serious health issues that neither can. You WILL need food assistance, you WILL have trouble living in any but the least safe and least expensive neighborhoods, you will very likely not be able to maintain a vehicle for long, etc.
Sit down and calculate it. $1,269 is the average monthly benefit. Medicare doesn't pay for everything, so unless your health is without problem untl the day you die, there will be from hundreds to ? out of pocket - medications? Dental? Aids to walk? If they send you to physcical therapy, there will be a bill for that co-pay, every little thing that comes along will take a bit more. Parking meters at the SS office...
Want a wake up call? Go try and rent something for $600 a month. I mean really go take a look at it, as if you were seriously going to have to live in it. You will be shocked at what you find, IF you can find such a thing around you. And if you are scared to go into that neighborhood now, think about when you have a walker. By the time you retire, it may be $1000 a month for the same place, but your SS check won't have grown by nearly that amount. Calculate what you have left and think about what your life would be like on that today, as rents rise all around you. Sure, you/they could move. Who will pay for that? Go to the food banks - look at the empty shelves. See if there is a meals on wheels program - and if they have enough people for the demand from just seniors. And we haven't even had the largest numbers of retirees yet.
Property taxes. Food. Clothing. Forget cable, take up birdwatching. Enjoy it, because they may be eaten sooner than you think. Hope you are renting, else when you need a new roof on the house, or the sewer unblocked, or ...? Just add up all the hundreds to thousands of dollars of expenses that you won't be able to pay when all you have is SS. Food stamps won't pay for toilet paper, btw.
My point is that one cannot live on SS alone, you must have other income. And just because SS puts you above the somewhat cruel poverty line, doesn't mean you can survive.
SS says about a third of people retiring have $!0,000 in assets or less. $10,000. That will very likely be gone in the first year, perhaps two. Then what?
About 50-75% of people moving toward not being able to work will find themselves in this position sooner than they think, I suspect. They have lost their jobs, their homes, and had to spend their retirement money to get through the past few years on the promise that things would get better. They didn't. And if they had to get a new job it very likely paid a third of what they used to make, with no retirement at all. At all. And those people are retiring by the thousands every day, ifi they are able, or if they have been unable to find work like so many, are grabbing a social security check as the first money they have been able to make in 5 years.
The latest jobs figures tell us a contining story - the population is increasing, the unemployment rate is going down because more people are leaving the labor market because there are not enough jobs. Yet it appears that this is not because seniors are leaving their jobs. They aren't, because they are scared to do anything else. Even working, however, over half of them are not able to save anything...just getting by and marching day by day toward likely poverty.
The pols, demos and pubs alike, are about to cut food stamp subsidies, TPP will ship even more jobs offshore, and if they have their way they will index SS to inflation (seriously? You really think your rent or house payment, or grocery bill, will be what it is today in 10 years? Not a chance).
Add that to the 50 million that are already in poverty. One of the things that infuriates me is hearing people talk about how people are "lifted" out of poverty by SS. Total horsecrap. Go try and live on that check and see if you think you are out of poverty. It simply does not provide even a minimal standard of living, at least not anything Americans are used to. You will have no heat some days, no food on others, and your life will very likely be drastically curtailed from what it is right now.
Unless we can switch to a diet of hope sandwiches for everyone, there are going to be at least 100 to 150 million really screwed people in our near future.
And I think that may well cost us a lot more than we might imagine.