50 years ago today President Johnson declared war on poverty. This went well as the poverty rate was almost halved over the next 35 years from 20% to 11%. Unfortunately since 1999 poverty has risen steadily to over 15% and child poverty is almost 50% higher at 22%. As bad as these national numbers are things are much worse in many of our major cities. In Rochester poverty stands at 31.5% and child poverty at 46%.
If this really was a war generals would be being fired, our current strategies would be completely overhauled, and new plans implemented. Unfortunately this is not happening. We continue to use the same tools to fight poverty that have failed for 15 years. While South American nations have made great strides in poverty reduction with Bosa Familia Americans have not heard of this and it is not even discussed as a solution. Meanwhile in Bangladesh Muhammad Yunus was able to reduce poverty so successfully using micro-finance and social entrepreneur-ism that he won a Nobel Peace Prize. Yet in America he remains unknown and his methods unused. The tools needed to reverse the recent trend of rising poverty are out there but as a nation we seem unconcerned with this problem.
Overall America has done a good job in reducing poverty but there is much more work to be done. While this has not caught the national imagination for quite some time it is time for all of us to start pressuring our leaders once more to take the lead in fighting poverty. It is time to reexamine our strategies and start using the best practices available so we can get the best return for our money. After all the costs of poverty are very high as failing schools, crime, homelessness and drugs are all symptoms of this problem. Some say we already spend too much on social programs but I think if we start spending this money more effectively we can reduce other expenditures as well.