'Child Trends' reflects on 60th anniversary of 'War on Poverty'

On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty” to combat the nation’s high poverty rate of 19 percent. In his State of the Union address, he identified the root causes of poverty as structural in nature: “The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.” A key strategy, he concluded, was to invest in “better schools, and better health, and better homes, and better training, and better job opportunities to help more Americans.”

In the ensuing years, policymakers created, expanded, or made permanent a host of programs to ensure that families and their children have access to resources that support their health and well-being, even in challenging times. These programs included Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps (which later became the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), Head Start, housing assistance, and Job Corps.

In large part due to the increased investment in anti-poverty programs over the past 30 years, there has been a relatively steady decline in the poverty rate among children, when measured to include benefits from federal anti-poverty programs. This matters because we know from decades of research that poverty experienced early in life, persistent poverty, and deep poverty can have especially detrimental effects on children’s development, and on their longer-term health and economic well-being.

We have made considerable progress in waging Johnson’s “war on poverty.” However, there is more work to be done. More than one in 10 children remain in poverty and gaps in poverty levels across racial and ethnic groups persist. In recognition of the 60th anniversary of the War on Poverty, this brief highlights three areas on which policymakers must focus their efforts to continue to reduce child and family poverty and address persistent economic disparities across racial and ethnic groups.

For the full report, go here.