In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson initiated a “War on Poverty,” stating in his State of the Union address:“This Administration, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America…It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won.” This war was targeted at any front against which individuals and families might confront the challenge of impoverishment.
From health care to higher education, job training to food stamps, the “War on Poverty” was a widespread effort to empower impoverished persons and communities to overcome economic inequalities and enhance their life chances. Yet, the history and legacy of this “war” is complicated and oen misunderstood; in other words, it is to ask the question, “Has the ‘War on Poverty’ been won?” To address this question, but not necessarily answer it, this presentation will provide a brief overview of major “War on Poverty” initiatives, their tenuous history and their connection to the modern-day social safety net.
Michael Gillespie is assistant professor of sociology at Eastern, which he joined after completing his Ph.D. at Western Michigan University. His research focuses on the historical and contemporary circumstances of poverty and food insecurity at the national, state and local levels. His work compares trends in assistance programs for poor persons and families with other social, economic and political conditions over time, and follows how policies and procedures generate and perpetuate social inequalities. As a scholar activist, he is looking at such conditions in the East-Central Illinois region, using government data and geographical mapping techniques to educate stakeholders about the incidence of poverty, inequality and food insecurity in Coles County and the area. This has led to the development of the Coles County Poverty Data Project, a repository of data and information on poverty in Coles County.