We Could Do a Lot More to Fight Poverty If We Wanted To


Today is the 50th anniversary of LBJ’s war on poverty, so we’ll be getting a lot of retrospectives. CBPP has a whole series of charts here, and they’re worth a look. Child poverty is way down since 1963, which is a big win, and elderly poverty is down too, which is a big win for Social Security.

But at the risk of being a buzzkill, I want to reprint a chart I put up last month. It answers a simple question: if you count income from all the welfare programs we’ve put in place over the past half century, how have working-age folks done? The answer is in the red line in the chart below. The Great Society programs of the 60s got the working-age poverty rate down from 20 percent to 15 percent, but then we gave up. Since the mid-70s, the poverty rate has stayed stubbornly stuck at about 15 percent:

This is a chart to really keep in mind as you read the inevitable retrospectives. The overall poverty rate has gone down substantially in the past half century, but that’s largely because of the huge effect of Social Security on elderly poverty. But as much as this is a great achievement, it’s not what most people think of when you talk about “poverty.” Rather, they’re mostly thinking of working-age people who are either unemployed or earning tiny wages. And among those people, we simply haven’t done much for the past 40 years.

It’s probably not possible to eliminate poverty, or even to get it down to 5 percent or so. But we could do more if we wanted. We could make Medicaid more generous. We could raise the minimum wage and the EITC. We could, at an absolute minimum, decide not to cut food stamps. We could do all these things. All we need is a bit of empathy for the worst off among us and the will to do something about it.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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