News: Press Releases

(WASHINGTON) – On January 8th, 1964, in his inaugural State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson cast a spotlight on an issue too often ignored in American society: widespread poverty. Since 1967, when President Johnson formally declared a “War on Poverty,” the share of Americans living in poverty has declined by more than one-third, from 25.8% in 1967 to 16% in 2012. Every year for the past 45 years, anti-poverty programs – ranging from Medicaid and food assistance to job aid and unemployment insurance – have lifted an average of 27 million people out of poverty each year. In 2012 alone, these programs helped 45 million Americans climb out of poverty. Social Security in particular has been essential to reducing the elderly poverty rate from 35% in 1965 to 14.8% in 2012. Yet, 49.7 million Americans, including 13.4 million children, live below the poverty line today, highlighting the work that remains to be done. In commemorating the anniversary, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) issued the following statement:

"Fifty years ago today, poverty in the United States was widespread – with more than 36 million Americans living in poverty – yet invisible to many Americans, as the country’s unemployment was low and the economy prosperous. In his bold inaugural State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an unconditional ‘War on Poverty.’ In the years that followed, Congress crafted progressive anti-poverty programs ranging from Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, and food aid, amongst other initiatives, that would ultimately lift millions of Americans out of poverty. There is much to be celebrated today,” said Conyers.

“And yet, in the aftermath of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, too many of our fellow Americans have fallen behind. Unfortunately, rather than continue to build on the foundation that President Johnson laid, Republicans in Congress want to turn back the clock on social and economic progress.

“In my home state of Michigan, the poverty rate is 17.44%. An alarming 24.9% of children under age 18 live below the poverty line. But this austerity-minded Congress allowed unemployment insurance benefits to expire for 43,311 Michiganders this past December 28th. And while 13.4% of Michigan households are hungry or food insecure, Republicans in Congress have cut an unconscionable $183 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for 1,775,000 million individuals in Michigan this year alone.

“These sharp, indiscriminate spending cuts are not only cruel, they are counter-productive to reducing poverty and putting Americans back to work. Rather than stripping the pocketbooks of working class families and draining needed funds from the economy, Congress should act to extend unemployment insurance and SNAP benefits without delay. I also strongly believe that the best remedy for absolute poverty is a job. For this reason, I introduced H.R. 1000, the ‘Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment and Training Act,’ which recognizes employment as a human right and provides jobs for all who seek them through public works projects rebuilding our infrastructure and strengthening the nation’s communities.

“As President Johnson stated fifty years ago, ‘many Americans live on the outskirts of hope – some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.’ While the impoverished conditions that President Johnson described continue for far too many Americans to this day, so too does the President’s call to action to combat the scourge of poverty that continues to resonate across the country. It is now time to make that message heard in the halls of Congress, and pick up – once again – our proud work of achieving a fairer, freer, and more economically just society.”

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