Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) believes that the War on Poverty, taken on by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, has failed to provide lasting economic reform for our nation’s less-affluent. “As far as the war on poverty is concerned, its programs have utility,” said Rubio. He believes that federal programs keep people from falling behind from the consequences of poverty, however, those programs do not assist people in their need to emerge from the economic chasm. 50 years after LBJ’s War on Poverty some say it is incomplete, Rubio has a plan.
In the 1960’s, beginning with the Kennedy Administration, the federal government was spearheading many programs to make life in the heartland better for those who were falling in between the economic cracks. As a part of the “Great Society,” President Johnson sought to bring much-needed education, healthcare, and economic reform to the people of America. He built his vision in action by federally assisting those living at or below the poverty line.
50 years later, it seems that LBJ’s vision for America of alleviating poverty is not only incomplete, but far from achieving fruition. But, there is a politician in Washington looking to reenergize the vision for the Great Society. Senator Rubio has put fighting poverty at the top of his political agenda. Rubio said “I think we have failed to take the next step, which is to help people trapped with inequality of opportunity to have the opportunities to build themselves a better life.” Rubio stated in a speech last week that he is going to streamline poverty-fighting federal programs and include what he calls a “flex fund.” This fund would be distributed to the states and the executives of those states would spend the money in ways that they believe would best assist the poverty-stricken.
He explains that one of the provisions of his plan would provide federal enhancement to those earning income from low-paying jobs. Rubio is also looking to restructure the way in which the less-affluent receive food stamps. He states that big government is the reason behind the war on poverty’s failure – a failure rooted in the lack of desirability of working.
One of the reasons why the war on poverty has not fulfilled its goals is because there are instances when not working is more economically desirable then holding a low-paying job. Looking to add to the debate on economic growth and job creation, Rubio has outlined a plan to create an incentive for not taking unemployment benefits. This incentive would allow for workers who are employed and earning low monetary compensation to apply for a subsidy. By doing this, it will create a job market at the low-paying end and those who have given up on finding a job will have a new found opportunity to enter the market. The restructuring of the way in which people view these benefits will bolster both growth of the job market and make entering the workforce more desirable.
Although the hopefulness and action of LBJ’s war on poverty has been called incomplete, Rubio has a plan. Rubio’s economic plan will also eliminate the federal government’s role in administering unemployment benefits. He stated that the government’s anti-poverty programs have the correct basic mindset; however, much reform is needed. “I’m not saying that we should dismantle the efforts. I’m saying that these efforts need to be reformed,” he said. He emphasized that there needs to be more flexibility in the administering of programs which would be best suited at the state and local levels.
Economist Michael Strain for the American Enterprise Institute stated that he believes there haven’t been any politicians discussing what he thinks is the main underlying problem to the sluggish recovery – long-term unemployment and the viability of the labor market. “What you’re seeing is some employment growth in the very low-skilled occupations,” he explained. Since the minimum wage was not created as living wage, many of those who survive and support families with a low-paying job find that filing for unemployment benefits warrants greater economic security.
Restructuring federal unemployment benefits to allow for people to desire to obtain a job will give them a sense pride. Since the restructuring will allow greater economic security, the less-affluent can focus on education to create a ladder to climb out of the economic chasm.
As the war on poverty enters its sixth decade, Rubio stated, “The richest nation on earth can afford to win it.” LBJ’s war on poverty may be incomplete, but Rubio has a plan. Even though LBJ, who grew up very poor in the grasslands of central Texas, wasn’t able to create a lasting effect for his vision, Rubio’s plan seems to have what it takes to re-energize the hopefulness of the Great Society. If Rubio has the political capital he needs to move his ideas through Congress and write out a plan for the American people, we may see the next advance on the economic battlefield of the war on poverty.
Opinion By Alex Lemieux