Fifty years after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty,” Mississippi remains the poorest state in the nation.
Most advocates and economists say Johnson’s social programs such as Head Start and child care subsidies have made huge differences in the state and across the country, yet they’re not reaching most in need.
On the demographics of Mississippi’s impoverished residents
“Mississippi’s poor children are concentrated in single-mother households; 76 percent of Mississippi’s poor children live with a single mom. And those are moms that are working. … Even though they have the same graduation rates or better graduation rates as men, they’re still earning less than men in every professional level, in every job sector, and they’re concentrated in low-wage work. Eight out of 10 low-wage earners in Mississippi are women.”
On the impact of the ‘War on Poverty’
“The War on Poverty made a hugely positive difference on the state of Mississippi. When you remember what life was like in the state in 1965, there’s no question that we’ve moved forward, that we’ve made progress on issues of race, we’ve made progress in anti-poverty programs. There are some new anti-poverty programs that Mississippi has benefited from that weren’t part of the War on Poverty. But we still have a very long way to go.”
On creating effective anti-poverty programs
“With the poverty programs, too many times we have policies that are created based on myths. One big example of that is the myth that the poor are not working. In fact, we’ve seen – I’ve seen in my work – that low income parents are working. It’s just their work isn’t paying enough to help them meet their family’s basic needs and create opportunities that allow them to climb out of poverty.”
“Education is important. All of the research shows that the higher level of education you have, the less likely it will be that you will be in poverty. And that is a very important strategy also for moving families out of poverty. It’s important that women who are these single moms have access to education. It’s important that they have access to job training — that’s going to move them into jobs that pay higher wages. What we need to do is remember that for these anti-poverty programs, they can’t only be some punitive, work-only approach, they have to also allow for education.”