In light of the anniversary of the War on Poverty, what still needs to be done in California to address poverty?
Until recently, poverty in California and our nation has received little attention. The 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of a national “War on Poverty” resurrected some attention to the progress and setbacks made over the years. The growing number of Americans living in poverty impacts not only the health of our nation’s economy, but also the condition of our nation’s morality.
We can no longer ignore the many millions of people and families struggling to survive. The statistics regarding poverty are disheartening, especially when the indicators show children to be the most highly affected group. According to the United States Census Bureau, nearly one in four, or approximately 2.1 million, California children under the age of 18 lived in poverty in 2012. Consistent with this data, approximately 25 percent of children in California’s Central Coast region are living in poverty, and the stress of trying to survive in poverty adversely impacts their health and ability to learn.
To address the crisis of poverty, several of my colleagues and I have formed the bi-partisan “End Poverty in California” (EPIC) caucus. We plan to evaluate the causes of poverty and develop strategies that might more effectively alter current trajectories. By engaging academics and those currently living in poverty … many of whom are working Californians … we want to reduce the number of people living in poverty and increase the economic opportunities afforded to all.
Clearly, there is no single solution to eradicate poverty. While it is essential to have social safety nets in place to protect families from the worst impacts of poverty, a viable solution must include more than government programs and charity if we want to give people the opportunity to improve their current condition. We must restore infrastructure that supports self-improvement, such as early childhood education, child care, community colleges, career ladders, and welfare-to-work programs. We must also be willing to explore and address the ever-widening gap between rich and poor that has resulted in a big decline of middle income earners.
If we are truly dedicated to finding solutions to address the current crisis of poverty, we must first be willing to open the conversation with the understanding that few people make the choice to live in poverty. Poverty is not a condition that afflicts only the poor, it is a condition that weakens all of us.