Sept. 8

A weekly publication of               9/8/2014

Dear Pat,

On August 20, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act and had this to say:

My fellow Americans:

On this occasion the American people and our American system are making history.

For so long as man has lived on this earth poverty has been his curse.

On every continent in every age men have sought escape from poverty's oppression.

Today for the first time in all the history of the human race, a great nation is able to make and is willing to make a commitment to eradicate poverty among its people.

Whatever our situation in life, whatever our partisan affiliation, we can be grateful and proud that we are able to pledge ourselves this morning to this historic course. We can be especially proud of the nature of the commitments that we are making.

This is not in any sense a cynical proposal to exploit the poor with a promise of a handout or a dole.

We know--we learned long ago--that answer is no answer.

The measure before me this morning for signature offers the answer that its title implies--the answer of opportunity. For the purpose of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 is to offer opportunity, not an opiate.

For the million young men and women who are out of school and who are out of work, this program will permit us to take them off the streets, put them into work training programs, to prepare them for productive lives, not wasted lives.

In this same sound, sensible, and responsible way we will reach into all the pockets of poverty and help our people find their footing for a long climb toward a better way of life.

We will work with them through our communities all over the country to develop comprehensive community action programs--with remedial education, with job training, with retraining, with health and employment counseling, with neighborhood improvement. We will strike at poverty's roots.

This is by no means a program confined just to our cities. Rural America is afflicted deeply by rural poverty, and this program will help poor farmers get back on their feet and help poor farmers stay on their farms.

It will help those small businessmen who live on the borderline of poverty. It will help the unemployed heads of families maintain their skills and learn new skills.

In helping others, all of us will really be helping ourselves. For this bill will permit us to give our young people an opportunity to work here at home in constructive ways as volunteers, going to war against poverty instead of going to war against foreign enemies.

All of this will be done through a program which is prudent and practical, which is consistent with our national ideals.

Every dollar authorized in this bill was contained in the budget request that I sent to the Congress last January. Every dollar spent will result in savings to the country and especially to the local taxpayers in the cost of crime, welfare, of health, and of police protection.

We are not content to accept the endless growth of relief rolls or welfare rolls. We want to offer the forgotten fifth of our people opportunity and not doles.

That is what this measure does for our times.

Our American answer to poverty is not to make the poor more secure in their poverty but to reach down and to help them lift themselves out of the ruts of poverty and move with the large majority along the high road of hope and prosperity.

The days of the dole in our country are numbered. I firmly believe that as of this moment a new day of opportunity is dawning and a new era of progress is opening for us all.

And to you men and women in the Congress who fought so long, so hard to help bring about this legislation, to you private citizens in labor and in business who lent us a helping hand, to Sargent Shriver and that band of loyal men and women who made up this task force that brings our dream into a reality today, we say "Thank you" for all the American people. In the days and years to come, those who have an opportunity to participate in this program will vindicate your thinking and vindicate your action.

Thank you very much.

In a blog post on, Ethan Sribnick, a historian of poverty and social policy, and co-author of The Poor Among Us: A History of Family Poverty and Homelessness in New York City, writes about the history of the fight to end poverty and where are today. Here are some excerpts from that blog.

Today, the nation confronts an unacceptable poverty rate of 15 percent. Of course, the conditions that people in poverty contend with—such as overcrowded and inadequate housing, not enough food, lack of opportunities for work, homelessness—these are not new. 

To a degree, anti-poverty strategies focus on either assisting individuals or lifting communities. Johnson’s War on Poverty, for example, took a decidedly community-centered approach to confronting policy. While some of its greatest successes were policies targeting individuals—like Medicare and Medicaid and SNAP—at the core of the Economic Opportunity Act was the Community Action Program, an effort to provide greater individual opportunity by reviving entire communities.

Here are a few snapshots of other poverty warriors from our past.

The Progressives                                                
Community played a central role for this generation of reformers that came of age between 1890 and 1920.  They viewed neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty, substandard housing, and contagious disease as both a cause and effect of continuing destitution among families in poverty.  For this group, later called progressives, the solution lay in strengthening both neighborhood institutions and state interventions.

In the Progressive Era, settlement houses embodied the idea of community-based poverty relief. First established in London in the 1880s, settlements proliferated in U.S. cities over the end of the 19th century and into the first decade of the 20th century. At places such as Hull House in Chicago, and Henry Street Settlement or Greenwich House in New York, young men and women from the middle class came to live, assist, and learn about poor communities. A focus on community infused everything that these settlement workers did. Some of the work was cultural such as providing concerts, lectures, and art exhibits for the neighborhood. But much of the work was about providing direct assistance to poor and working class families, including: medical care, day care, kindergarten, and after-school programs so parents could find work.  The reformers also sponsored neighborhood clubs and organizations to help residents focus attention on the problems confronting their communities.

Settlements also became centers of reform. Workers collected extensive data on their communities and their expertise was central in efforts to end child labor, improve housing conditions, and provide state support for widowed or deserted mothers. In calling for these reforms, settlement workers tried to rally their neighbors to get involved, consistent with their missions as community-based organizations.

The New Dealers
The New Dealers of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration—many of whom had participated in the Progressive Movement—confronted a crisis of unprecedented widespread unemployment and poverty, the Great Depression. Their focus was on relief to those in need, a return to economic growth, and reforms that would prevent poverty in the future. The Roosevelt administration passed wide-reaching legislation to stabilize the economy, ensure protections for workers including the right to organize, and facilitate homeownership. These programs laid the foundation for an expanded middle class after World War II.

At the same time, the New Deal needed to create specific mechanisms to assist families and individuals confronting poverty. Programs such as the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and the Works Progress Administration provided temporary assistance to unemployed people during the Depression.  The Social Security Act of 1935 provided a more permanent response to economic vicissitudes and remains one of our greatest pieces of legislation for fighting poverty through today. It offered new federal assistance to the elderly, and created the system of Old Age Insurance that we now call Social Security, which has led to a marked decrease in poverty among the elderly. It also provided federal support for unemployment insurance to prevent hardship in future economic downturns. The Act also contained Aid to Dependent Children (later Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC)—a program that provided assistance to widowed and deserted mothers. The bill included no general assistance for poor individuals, but Aid to Dependent Children—while never generous and subject to the limitations of each state—would help countless families.

The Fight Today
Today, our poverty programs are a mix of both individually-focused policies and community-based approaches.  There are more than 46 million SNAP recipients, and the program kept nearly 5 million people out of poverty last year; in 2012, 26.2 million tax filers received the EITC, and it kept 6.5 million people out of poverty; and a flawed TANF provides assistance to more than 1.5 million families a month. At the same time, many community action agencies and settlement houses continue to provide focused assistance to their local neighborhoods. Programs funded through the Community Development Block Grant, and efforts like the Obama administration’s Promise Neighborhoods, are also attempts to strengthen communities in ways that alleviate poverty.

Yet, as Elizabeth Kneebone of Brookings has recently reported, poverty became more concentrated over the 2000s. The solution must be more coordinated individual and community-based antipoverty programs that provide assistance and also the resources—jobs that pay good wages, housing, transportation, access to education, social services, to name a few—that would resuscitate floundering urban neighborhoods and suburban towns.

Our poverty warriors have made great strides in the fight against poverty over the last century.  Today, through both individual and community-based tactics, it’s time for our next great advance.

Did you know...

Percentage of children under 18 in the New England states living below the official poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four) in 2012. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau ACS).

Children in Poverty
U.S State Ranking

New Hampshire


Rhode Island


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Join Us to Step Up for Kids

On Tuesday, September 23rd Every Child Matters will be hosting our 7th annual Step Up for Kids Day. Each year Step Up for Kids brings together thousands of people across the country to show widespread support for investments in children and families.  Participants include child advocates, policy makers, educators, agencies and organizations, grandparents, parents and kids. These non-partisan events across the states raise awareness about the issues American children face, among them access to early care and learning and after-school programs, poverty, child abuse and neglect, and health care.

This year’s ECM-New Hampshire event will be held at the Holiday Inn, 172 North Main Street, Concord. Our morning will begin with breakfast at 7:45 am and end by noon with a special tribute to our friend and true champion for children, Representative Mary Stuart Gile.

Please consider spending your morning with us for some great food, information, and conversation as we Step Up for Kids! To register please clickHERE!

MaryLou Beaver
New Hampshire Director
Every Child Matters Education Fund

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