By John Halpin
Much has changed in American society since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared “unconditional war on poverty” in his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. Women, people of color, the elderly, and people with disabilities are more strongly protected by law and more integrated into our national economy than they were in the 1960′s Republican efforts notwithstanding.
But unlike the 1960′s, when GDP and median wages rose together at a steady clip, today’s economy remains woefully bad for millions of Americans. A massive new study from the Half in Ten Campaign and the Center for American Progress of American attitudes about work, the war on poverty, and new proposals to fight poverty in the future underscores just how bad the problem is. Indeed, poverty, far from being a niche concern of “the poor,” is something that touches the lives over half of Americans.
As the chart below highlights, one-quarter to one-third of Americans, and even higher percentages of people of color and Millennials, reported suffering serious economic hardship within the past year. That includes falling behind in rent, mortgage, or utilities payments; being unable to afford enough food or necessary medical care; and failing to keep up with debt payments. A majority of Americans — 54 percent — say that someone in their immediate or extended families is poor, a figure that has increased two points since 2008, when CAP last did polling on poverty issues. Almost two-thirds of African Americans and nearly 60 percent of Latinos report a direct family connection to poverty.