What People Really Think About Poverty
On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced an “unconditional war on poverty in America.” “It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it,” said Johnson.
50 years later, many of the programs that were passed in that era still exist and have helped keep millions out of poverty. In fact, the poverty rate would be nearly double today without them. But without a doubt, poverty still exists in this country.
The perception continues to be that there is a wide ideological gap across the county of what government’s role is in extending the ladders needed to increase economic mobility and lift people out of poverty. On this anniversary, the Center for American Progress and Half in Ten commissioned a poll to ask Americans what they really think about poverty in the United States. The findings might surprise you:
1. Between one-quarter and one-third of Americans experience direct economic hardship. Sixty-one percent of Americans say their family’s income is falling behind the cost of living, compared to just 8 percent who feel they are getting ahead and 29 percent who feel they are staying even. Anywhere from 25 to 34 percent of Americans-and even higher percentages of Millennials and people of color-report serious problems in the past year falling behind on rent, mortgage or utilities payments; affording necessary medical care; keeping up with credit card payments; or having enough to money for food. Fifty-four percent of Americans say that someone in the immediate or extended families is poor — a 2-point increase since 2008 and an 18-point increase since 2001.
2. Americans blame economic conditions, not personal responsibility, as the reason people live in poverty in this country. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) believe that most people who live in poverty do so because of bad economic conditions like low-paying jobs, compared to only one-quarter who think it is because the poor make bad decisions. Even white conservatives believe by a 2:1 margin (63 percent to 29 percent) that poverty is driven by socioeconomic factors and conditions rather than poor personal decision-making.
3. There is almost unanimous agreement that government has a responsibility to fight poverty. An overwhelming 86 percent of Americans agree with the belief put forward by President Johnson 50 years ago.
4. There is widespread support for a national goal to cut poverty in half within 10 years. Seven in 10 Americans–including a majority of those identifying as white conservatives–support this goal.
5. Americans also express very strong support for a number of policies to help reduce poverty rates, particularly with jobs, wages, and education but also on more traditional safety net items. Among the proposals garnering strong support are emergency unemployment benefits, increasing the minimum wage, universal pre-kindergarten, and expanded nutrition assistance. Congress should take note.
You can check out the complete results of the poll HERE. Our colleagues have also put together a variety of other resources on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty. Be sure and check those out HERE.