I really enjoy reading the “Today in History” section of the Daily Republic.
On Jan. 8, it reminded us of the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of America’s War on Poverty; but that was the only article I saw commemorating this event. I find that odd, because there are more than 100,000 people right here in Solano County who should be thankful he started that war, the main features of which still remain as major safety nets in today’s fragile economy.
The Social Security Act of 1965 created Medicare and Medicaid, and the Food Stamp Act of 1964 was the precursor of today’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly knows as food stamps. While consistently mocked by the right for the past 50 years, Johnson’s War on Poverty was instrumental in reducing the number of Americans living in poverty from about 26 percent in the mid-1960s, to about 15 percent today. It has proven most effective in protecting those who can do little to protect themselves: America’s children and our elderly. While there is significantly less hunger and suffering in America than there was before the War on Poverty, I think there’s still a heck of a lot more than there should be.
Looking back a few years, to the depths of the Great Recession, our nation’s economy is in much better shape than it has been. There are currently only three unemployed people looking for work for every job opening, compared to nearly seven applicants per job in 2009. But the fact remains that while there still are more workers than jobs, America will have willing workers who are unemployed and while we can support Wall Street to the tune of $85 billion a month, money seems to be running out for Main Street’s out-of-work workers.
In the past month, we have seen the radical right-wingers in Congress awaken from their “do-nothing” stupor to cut “food stamp” and unemployment benefits for our nation’s poor. Why? Because, according to their convoluted logic, these safety nets encourage people to stay at home and not look for work. But if you view the big picture, the plain math of available jobs versus job-seekers destroys the defective foundation of their tawdry, sound-bite theory.
This right-wing narrative belongs in their trash heap of failed ideology along with their time-worn War on Poverty narrative.
The prevailing wind from the right in the 1980s was that President Johnson’s “welfare” programs had destroyed traditional American values and led to the dissolution of the family along with rising crime rates, unemployment and urban decay. This right-wing, feel-good, I’m-better-than-you theory, like today’s similar hypotheses, ignores relevant data and plays to our basest gut fears and prejudices.
A more factual view of the 1970s would show that skyrocketing oil prices, inflation, sky-high interest rates and recessions with declining employment led to large swaths of urban blight and crushing poverty. To the discerning mind, poverty and lack of opportunity are the real villains rending our American social fabric, not the bugaboos of unemployment insurance, food stamps or Medicare.
Believe it or not, our nation’s elderly needed medicines, hospitals and hip replacements even before there was Medicare.
Before Medicare, one hospital visit could easily wipe out a lifetime of savings, and then, about half of our nation’s elderly, perhaps your own grandparents, suffered in poverty until they died. Medicare coverage is a big deal – just ask anyone over 65 – and it’s no freebie government handout; it’s insurance, just like unemployment and Social Security.
My employers and I have paid about $100,000 into Medicare since 1965 and even though my card is in my wallet, I still don’t consider myself a “taker.”
Mike Kirchubel grew up in Fairfield and is the author of “Vile Acts of Evil – Banking in America.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.