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Has the War on Poverty helped?
In January of 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty in his State of the Union address. As this war continues, Emory University political science professor Michael Leo Owens says while we haven’t won the war, it has helped.
“Without any of these [War on Poverty] programs, particularly the initial programs like Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, and a variety of other things, without any of those things, the poverty rate would be much, much higher than it actually is,” says Owens, an expert in African American politics and public policy.
Michael Rich, executive director of Emory’s Center for Community Partnerships, agrees saying in the decade following declaration of these programs, the poverty level dropped significantly.
“Elderly poverty was cut in half,” explains Rich, a political science professor and public policy expert. “Poverty among children [and] poverty among working age adults also dropped sharply.”
Today’s poverty rate is about 15 percent, down from 19 percent in 1964, and poverty among the elderly has dropped more than 20 percentage points in that same time, down to less than 10 percent today.
Rich and Owens believe the keys to further decrease the poverty levels in this country are more educational and employment opportunities for the poor and a more collaborative approach between the government and private organizations. Owens says he doesn’t see an end to the War on Poverty, though, but the country needs to keep fighting.
“Maybe in 100 years time, we’ll be thinking about 10 percent [or] 9 percent [or] 8 percent,” says Owens. “Anything’s possible.”

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