The poverty rate is the percentage of Americans whose income is lower than the federally determined poverty line. It was 17.3% in 1965.
As LBJ put it to Congress, “Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.” The safety-net programs that Mr. Romney does not comprehend came from President Johnson’s Great Society initiative.
Romney, the other GOP candidates, and the Republican Congress gripe about and seek to change one of President Johnson’s greatest legislative achievements, Medicare. It helped to lower poverty rates for the elderly. So did President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Social Security program, which LBJ enhanced by advocating, pushing for, and signing legislation in 1965 and 1967. But the GOP seeks to repeal LBJ’s Great Society by claiming that its programs are bankrupting the country.
Romney ineloquently brought up poverty with his “very poor” statement, for which he drew massive criticism. He said he misspoke. That may be true, but it reveals an ignorance of the fact that more than 20 million Americans live in a household with income of less than half the federal poverty rate. According to census data for 2010, those “very poor” had an annual income below $11,057 for a family of four. That portion of the US population in the very poor category has almost doubled since 1975 and is the highest it has been in 35 years. Business people rely on data. At the least Romney could have read Business Week and appeared less clueless.
In addition to those one in five Americans that Romney does not care about, the ones who had trouble putting food on the table last year, the unpleasant reality is that nearly
half of all U.S. households are struggling to cover basic expenses like electricity and medical care. Children are the least fortunate victims. As in LBJ’s time in the late ‘20s when he was a Texas school teacher, childhood poverty can have a lifelong effect on a person's earning potential. The Brookings Institute and First Focus found that by the time children who fell into poverty during a recession grow up to be financially independent adults, their median income is about 30 percent less than that of adults who never experienced poverty as children. That is certainly bad for business.