Peter Edelman on Waging Another War on Poverty

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This month marks the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, declared by President Lyndon Johnson in his 1964 State of the Union Address. Last year, Bill spoke with Peter Edelman, one of our nation’s foremost experts on poverty. During the mid-1960s, the two men worked in Washington for the Johnson administration — Edelman as an aide to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Bill as a special assistant to the president. In their conversation, they looked back at the forces that came together during that time to face down poverty in America.

Enthusiasm for LBJ’s War on Poverty lost steam as the ’70s progressed. “I thought onward and upward… [but] there are so many things that happened that we didn’t foresee,” Edelman told Bill. “The economy caught up with us.” Edelman explained that the manufacturing jobs that had supported much of the middle class disappeared and were replaced with jobs that paid much less, if they were replaced at all. And with LBJ’s other war — Vietnam — raging abroad and Watergate unfolding at home, the country began to lose faith in government as a force to solve problems.

Decades later, polling shows the majority of Americans don’t consider the War on Poverty a success — poverty is, after all, still very much with us — but they do support the programs it created.

In this clip, Edelman lays out what it would take for the country to wage a 21st century War on Poverty.

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