Fifty years ago today, in his first State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson boldly declared “unconditional war on poverty in America.” In the subsequent years, Democrats and Republicans worked together to pass a series of ambitious programs designed to provide basic dignity and economic security to more people.
Today, the White House Council of Economic Advisers marked this 50th anniversary by issuing a report demonstrating that the War on Poverty made a powerful material difference in millions of lives. Poverty has been reduced by more than one-third since 1967. It succeeded, as LBJ envisioned, in lifting up Americans who “live on the outskirts of hope,” helping them “replace despair with opportunity.”
President Obama has inherited this legacy and built on it, with an economic agenda that rewards work and empowers the middle class. But he recognizes, and today’s CEA report highlights, the important work still ahead of us. Too many of our fellow citizens are struggling to secure a foothold in the middle class, finding the rungs on the ladder of opportunity further and further apart.
Congress should move quickly to pass an extension of emergency unemployment benefits, which expired on December 28 even though they were a critical lifeline for so many families suffering and struggling through no fault of their own. Unemployment insurance has kept an estimated 11 million people out of poverty since 2008. And as the president has repeatedly emphasized, we need to increase the federal minimum wage — because no one who works full-time should live in poverty.
The Labor Department will remain front and center in the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce income inequality.We will continue to help all Americans live out their highest and best dreams. We will continue to uphold our nation’s basic bargain: that no matter who you are or where you come from, you can make it if you try.
Follow Secretary Perez on Twitter as @LaborSec.