“This administration today, here and now, declares 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.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson, January 8, 1964

Today marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration to an unconditional War on Poverty, an effort that was announced during his 1964 State of the Union address. Far too many North Carolinians and Americans still live on the “outskirts of hope” and face the stark realities of poverty. With that said, poverty has fallen significantly over the last half-century (when using a comprehensive measure), illustrating the key role that public policies play in combating poverty and boosting economic security.

Johnson’s War on Poverty laid the foundation for the modern-day safety net, including Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, SNAP (formerly  known as food stamps), and a boost to Social Security benefits. Policymakers also provided funding towards elementary and secondary education, established the college work-study program, and provided loans for low- and moderate-income students.

The modern-day safety net cuts poverty nearly in half (see chart below) and reduces the depth of poverty among many families living moderately above the poverty line. Read More

Federal spending on the SNAP program—formally known as food stamps—is already declining as a share of the economy, according to a new report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  This is the case even though some critics, who claim that SNAP is growing out of control, are calling for deeper SNAP cuts as part of current congressional negotiations over the Farm Bill. These cuts would come on top of the cuts that took place earlier this month.

North Carolina has the fifth highest food insecurity rate in the nation, and cuts on top of cuts will create an even greater challenge for the 1 in 6 Tar Heel households that struggle with too few resources to meet their family’s nutritional needs.

As expected, there was a steep rise in SNAP spending due to the Great Recession—the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression during the 1930s—and the lagging recovery. However, this spending trend is reversing, with the decline in spending expected to accelerate over the next five years (see chart below). Read More

Last week, North Carolinians came together to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the North Carolina Fund, an effort that was launched amidst crisis levels of poverty. The mission of the NC Fund was to mount “an all-out assault on poverty,” and while short-lived, it served as a template for President Lyndon Johnson’s ambitious—and effective—national “War on Poverty.”

Those asserting that efforts to reduce poverty have failed point to an antiquated way of measuring poverty. But, when you examine more accurate poverty statistics, it’s clear that the North Carolina Fund and the War on Poverty have helped lift millions of Americans out of poverty.

As Arloc Sherman, a poverty expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, points out, the official poverty measure doesn’t reflect how safety net programs are helping people:   Read More

Cross-post from Diane Morris of NC Women AdvaNCe. See the original post here.

Yancey County is a small county in the North Carolina mountains. About half the county is state or national park, and it includes the majestic Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi.

But the serenity of the setting provides no protection against the dangers that affect countless thousands of people, mostly women and children, throughout the nation. In this county of fewer than 18,000 people, families rely on the Family Violence Coalition of Yancey County to provide shelter and help when they face abuse in their homes.

But now the coalition faces its own dangers – cuts in government funding. “Based on per-capita income, we are one of the most impoverished in North Carolina, so we didn’t have a real big safety net or a cushion of funding in the bank,” explained Samantha Phipps, director of the coalition.

“I’ve done this seven-and-a-half years and I’m 50 years old and have a really strong background in human services. But I’m not a miracle maker. I have been as stressed in the past year as I have ever been in my professional life,” Phipps said.

Throughout the country, agencies providing services to victims of domestic violence are struggling. Read More

Authored by Alexandra Sirota, Director of the NC Budget and Tax Center

In July 1963, the North Carolina Fund began its work as a non-profit organization charged with fighting poverty statewide.  Its 50th Anniversary couldn’t provide a timelier reminder of our past successes at addressing poverty and serve as a call to focus on once again on eliminating poverty in our state.

This week in Durham there will be a series of events to commemorate the anniversary including with various screenings of the film Change Comes Knocking.  For those who can’t make the screenings, here is a short video on the background of Fund from the Institute for Emerging Issues.

The North Carolina Fund represented an important moment in our history not just because it once again demonstrated that our leaders had a vision for addressing a big social problem that could lead the nation.  The Fund, afterall, was the precursor to President Johnson’s War on Poverty.  It also provided clear evidence that to address poverty required work across race and class lines.

Today as nearly one in every other child of color lives in poverty, poverty remains a civil rights issue.  And it is also an issue that holds down our economic progress as a state.