The Secret to Fighting Poverty

January 8, 2014

Today marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of an “unconditional war on poverty in America.” Over $20 trillion in federal initiatives have since poured forth over two generations. The result: America’s poverty rate has fallen from 19% to 15%. Hardly a ringing success.

Poverty today may be less prevalent, but it seems stickier. The ranks of the chronically poor have risen since the financial crisis and many appear stuck in the rising share of counties with persistent poverty. Financial hardship is also creeping into more corners of the country. In 1964, poverty was primarily found in urban areas and rural communities. That is no longer true. Today, more than 16 million of America’s poor live in the suburbs, while a little over 13 million reside in its cities.

With a declining workforce, stagnating wages, rising inequality, decreasing mobility, changing social structures, and more, the opportunity to better one’s lot in life appears farther away to a wider swathe of America than ever before.

Do we really want to ease the crushing weight of poverty? Then embrace free enterprise. Elevate the poor and the vulnerable in America by rewarding hard work and merit. Equip our children with good skills and schooling. Foster equality of opportunity for all. It is this focus that has already eradicated 80% of the world’s worst poverty over the last 40 years.

This is why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation exists—to improve society and the economy by strengthening America’s long-term competitiveness within the free enterprise system. As we continue to wage war on the scourge of poverty, the Foundation will be there to inform and inspire a renewed focus on opportunity for all Americans.