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Press Release: NETWORK Marks Fiftieth Anniversary of President Johnson’s War on Poverty

FOR RELEASE: January 8, 2014                                                                           

CONTACT: Stephanie Niedringhaus, 202-347-9797 x224,

Washington DC: NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, today issued the following statement:

Exactly 50 years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson announced that his administration was declaring a War on Poverty. As he said that day, “The richest nation on earth can afford to win [this war]. We cannot afford to lose it.” He was right.

Some would have us believe that his plan failed, but they are wrong. In fact, our nation’s poverty rate fell from 26% in 1967 to 16% in 2012 when we factor in support provided by safety-net programs. Many of those programs, which include SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, Medicare and expanded Social Security, grew out of his goals.

Today, a large number of politicians who claim the War on Poverty failed are actively attacking safety-net programs that have been so effective. That is appalling, and we at NETWORK will continue to lobby Congress to protect and strengthen the safety net.

To lower poverty rates still further, however, we need more than just safety-net programs.  We must also address structural problems in our economy that continue to exacerbate income and wealth disparities, leaving far too many still in poverty while  the wealth of those at the top soars. Solutions to these problems include fair tax and housing policies, access for all to asset building, and just wages.

Our faith calls for justice and compassion within our communities and nation. As Pope Francis wrote, “The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed, not only for the pragmatic reason of its urgency for the good order of society, but because society needs to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it, and which can only lead to new crises. Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses. As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.”  (Joy in the Gospel, paragraph 202)

Policies that help our entire nation—the 100%—will create the more perfect union envisioned by our nation’s founders while addressing the values of our faith. As noted by Sister Simone Campbell, NETWORK’s Executive Director, “If We the People commit to forming this more perfect union, then we will accomplish President Johnson’s dream and ensure that all will have a fair chance to succeed. But to achieve this goal in our frayed democracy, we must weave ourselves together to create a whole tapestry in which everyone has a valued place. This is the essence of democracy. If we care for the common good, then we will meet the challenges of our time to reduce poverty and fully embrace the promise of our Constitution. By standing up to the challenges, poverty will be reduced, and we will flourish as a healthy nation where all can live in dignity.” (From “Resetting the Poverty Debate,” Half in Ten)