Dec 10

"The Resources and the Know-how to Eliminate Poverty"

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 12/10/2018 6:00AM | Quote of the Week | War on Poverty

"The Resources and the Know-how to Eliminate Poverty"

"The Resources and the Know-how to Eliminate Poverty"

We continue this month’s look at poverty through Sargent Shriver’s eyes with a decisive and optimistic Quote of the Week on the subject. In a statement to the House Education and Labor Committee of the US Congress,[1] Sargent Shriver presented his poverty plan in preparation for a vote on what would become the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, the official legislation of the War on Poverty.

Although it is evident from Sargent Shriver’s description of the plan that some of the specifics of its programs (Head Start, Job Corps, VISTA, Community Action, Legal Services for the Poor, and Foster Grandparents) were not yet fleshed out, the intention and breadth of the plan were already clear. As we know, Sargent Shriver and his team were successful in the creation of the legislation, which was passed in the Senate on July 23, 1964 and in the House of Representatives on August 8, 1964. President Lyndon Johnson then signed the bill into law on August 20, 1964.

We invite you to read Sargent Shriver’s articulation of the plan, which is notable for two reasons: the first is for its utter conviction that the elimination of poverty is necessary and achievable. He says, “There are those who say the poor will always be with us. I do not believe it. President Johnson does not believe it. What is more, I do not think the members of this Committee or the Congress of the United States believe it.” His words are also notable for their pragmatism. Sarge focuses on the jobs that the plan will generate and on the fact that it is “financially prudent,” using funds that were already in the federal budget, and centering on the development of skills and resources people needed so as to stimulate economic opportunity.

For us, this Quote of the Week is not just a series of words meant to generate likes, shares, or retweets. It gets at a truth that some are not willing to see: that poverty on the scale that we see it in the United States persists because of a series of choices we have made as a society, in governmental policy, in our institutions, and in our economy. We have the ability to make different choices. And, as the wealthiest country on earth, we have the resources to provide economic opportunities to those among us who, as Sarge put it, “have not been able to share in the abundance of American society.”

One final note: students of Sargent Shriver’s political career will appreciate this week’s speech because it showcases Sarge in a role that was familiar for him but that may not be at the forefront of people’s minds when they think of Sargent Shriver: as a skilled negotiator within the US Congress. Although he never served in the House or in the Senate, Sargent Shriver was instrumental in crafting and supporting landmark legislation several times in his life, including for the creation of the Peace Corps, and for several other measures that came before the Congress in the decades after his tenure as Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity.

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[1] Today, this committee of the House of Representatives is known as the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

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