Professor Robert B. Hudson Pens Editorial for BU Today
On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson committed the nation to an unconditional war on poverty. “It will not be a short or easy struggle,” Johnson said, “but we shall not rest until that war is won.” Johnson aimed to cure and prevent poverty. “The richest nation on Earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it,” he professed. As commentary and criticisms commenced during the War on Poverty’s 50th anniversary, Boston University School of Social Work Professor Robert B. Hudson weighs in on the war’s outcomes.
“Assessing the degree to which ‘the war’ was won or lost comes down to determining which so called war we’re talking about, and how to measure the results,” Hudson explained. Johnson’s war focused almost exclusively on the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA), a program that reached a high level of funding in 1968 with $2 billion, compared to Social Security’s $30 billion at the same time.
Today’s retrospectives address the various actions taken by the federal government to battle poverty, efforts that are far broader than those in the 1960s. “Much of the debate on their effectiveness centers on measurement issues,” Hudson said. A recent study by Columbia University researchers found that inclusion of government transfer benefits in the poverty measurement, which official calculations omit, led to a significant poverty reduction. However, “the 40 million people still battling poverty question the meaning of that success,” Hudson explained.
The mixed antipoverty results cannot ignore the remarkable drop in poverty rates among people 65 and older. Dropping from 39% in 1959 to 9% today, due in large part to Social Security, “represents America’s most successful poverty reduction intervention,” Hudson said. “It speaks to both the policy and political accomplishments that can be brought about through targeted universal and non-means-tested programming.”
Hudson’s full BU Today editorial can be found here.