How Do You Win a War on Poverty?

“Our job is not just getting people out of poverty. It is keeping them out. We are not going to win this war if, for every poor person who gets out of poverty, another person falls in. Illness, old age, automation menace us all. That’s precisely why we all have to stick together.”
Sargent Shriver |Springfield, IL| October 6, 1965

Our Quote of the Week reminds us that in order to create a truly sustainable society, we must go beyond eliminating poverty; we must eliminate the conditions that lead people into poverty.

In his 1965 Address to the Illinois State Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, Sargent Shriver reviews the fundamental values behind the War on Poverty. He speaks about the concept of “community action,” which relies on citizens being involved in the solutions that were being implemented to lift their communities out of poverty. He emphasizes the importance of employment and self-determination, listing, program by program, how each component of the War on Poverty could help make communities more sustainable. Part of what’s notable about the speech is that Sargent Shriver describes programs that he was able to implement (and that continue to exist) such as Head Start, Job Corps, and Community Action, as well as programs that were never implemented as he envisioned, including substantial support for adult education and for funding farms and small businesses in difficult times, through simple loans. This grand vision that Sargent Shriver described, which was never fully implemented after he was reassigned from the leadership of the War on Poverty, gives us insight into how we might approach tackling poverty today.

As we continue to deal with the public health and economic crises around the coronavirus pandemic, we would be wise to consider an approach to tackling poverty that is both holistic and compassionate. It should be an approach that, as Sargent Shriver believed, takes into account all of the conditions that allow poverty to persist in the United States, and that ensures that we can eliminate or mitigate those conditions.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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