Victory, defeat, or somewhere in between for the War on Poverty?

POVERTY | Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of a War on Poverty. Much of the conversation around this significant benchmark is about the success or failure of the “war.” Fifty years in, as our national poverty rate is at fifteen percent, opinions vary. There is plenty of good reading on the subject today.

– Brookings looks at the spread of poverty to the suburbs and asks whether this is an indicator that the war has failed. Here’s a great snippet (Brookings, 1/8):

There are many lessons to be learned from the successes and failures of these place-based policies since the War on Poverty began. Among the clearest is that we can’t rely on 50-year-old architecture to succeed in addressing the broader reach and scale of today’s need, particularly in a resource-constrained environment.

– Pablo Eisenberg’s column takes a more positive view of the war’s impact, and he says that the empowerment of the poor to become leaders has been a critical component to that end. (Chronicle, 1/8)

– The Chronicle takes a look at how nonprofit leaders are using this anniversary as an opportunity to renew Johnson’s charge. (Chronicle, 1/8)

– NPR’s Pam Fessler returns to ground zero – Martin County, Kentucky. That’s the place Johnson used to symbolize the necessity of the War on Poverty. Have things improved there? (NPR, 1/8)

– Interesting question – should the government even be trying to fight poverty in the first place? The vast majority (86%) of Americans think that it should. (Nation, 1/7)

– And finally, here’s a decisive opinion on war.

RACE/CRIME | Do you know how many black males have been arrested by age 23? Half of them. And while that number is shockingly high, Hispanic (44%) and white (38%) males aren’t much farther behind. The Atlantic reports on new numbers published in the journal Crime & Delinquency and they highlight something that should matter to everyone in our community (Atlantic, 1/8):

There is substantial research showing that arrested youth are not only more likely to experience immediate negative consequences such as contact with the justice system, school failure and dropout, and family difficulties but these problems are likely to reverberate long down the life course in terms of additional arrests, job instability, lower wages, longer bouts with unemployment, more relationship troubles, and long-term health problems including premature death.

TRANSIT | Chevy Chase is considering taking legal action to block construction of the Purple Line. I wish he would just focus on making another entry in the Fletch series. Wait, oops, wrong Chevy Chase. (Patch via GGW, 1/8)

– Here’s an account of a homeless advocate’s efforts to bring people into shelters this week. Despite the frigid temperatures, it isn’t an easy task convincing some people. (WaPo, 1/8)

– As freezing temperatures continue, Mayor Gray has re-purposed some Metrobuses as emergency shelters. (CP, 1/8)

WORKFORCE/EDUCATION | Here’s a transcript from an NPR session on how to link GED tests with workforce development. The featured guest is the president of LaGuardia Community College in New York, which is piloting a new program. (NPR, 1/8) I should stop writing “here’s a….” It’s already pretty obvious that I’m linking to something. Bad writing, Christian!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the use of war as a metaphor to address societal challenges. Our nation’s historical success (at least pre-1960s) with military war makes the metaphor appealing. Within that history lies decisive victory. We knew for sure that we had won World War II, for example. But during the last half century – Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, the broader War on Terror – the shifting nature of warfare and consequent difficulty of identifying clear success has muddied the value of war as a metaphor.

What if we rewrite the narrative? How could we frame the War on Poverty to change our thinking and our tactics? Your thoughts?

Speaking of war, here’s a really cool time lapse that shows every day of WWII.  And a song by a band called War!

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