Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty to end the struggles of millions of Americans. Many believe that the U.S. lost that war because the government spent billions and didn't eradicate poverty in America. But the Center on American Progress founded by former Clinton chief of staff and current Congressional strategist for the Obama administration John Podesta, argues just the opposite.
The center released a report this week showing that the poverty rate fell from 26% in 1967 to 16% in 2012 because of social safety net programs like tax credits, food stamps and Medicaid-- all of which were created as a result of the War on Poverty.
Melissa Boteach, director of the poverty and prosperity program at the Center, tells The Daily Ticker that this safety net has "kept a lot of Americans out of abject poverty," but that the poverty rate is still too high, and the war should go on.
"We haven't done enough," says Boteach. "We still need to make the labor market work better for people because right now that safety net is having to work overtime to make up for rising income inequality for an economy that's not producing enough living wage jobs."
In the video above The Daily Ticker asks Boteach what can be done to create an economy that produces enough living wage jobs.
Boteach suggests that the federal government:
• Invest in infrastructure, energy, health care and other growing industries in order to create more jobs
• Raise the minimum wage, which is about 30% lower than it was in the 1960s after adjusting for inflation
• Index the minimum wage to inflation so it keeps up with the rising cost of living
• Expand pre-K and child care for working parents
Adopting those recommendations plus an expansion of tax credits for low-wage working families could cut the poverty rate by 26% over the next 10 years, says Boteach, who's also director of the "Half in Ten" program at the Center for American Progress. Its purpose: to cut the poverty rate in half over 10 years.
As of January 1, the minimum wage increased in 13 states, but it remains unchanged at the federal level, stuck at $7.25 since July 2009. President Obama is expected to push for a minimum wage hike this year, but Boteach isn't convinced Congress will go along. Still she's certain it will be an election issue come November.
Boteach also favors an extension of the emergency unemployment benefits, which is expected to pass the Senate but face stiff opposition in the House.
As for paying for these programs, Boteach notes that poverty itself is an economic cost. "Child poverty costs the economy $500 billion a year in lost economic productivity, increased health expenditures and criminal justice expenditures...In the long-term it is a good investment...that we can all benefit from."
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