By Betsy L. Angert
Then, in 1965, there was a vision. President Lyndon Johnson addressed the tragedy that existed in America, poverty. He had hoped to give birth to a Great Society. Mister Johnson dreamed of the day when the truth of America reflected the richness that is often said to define this country. Yet, his aspiration was deferred. In a desire to create a Great Society, or two, one at home and one overseas, Lyndon Johnson lost his bearing. Ultimately, he destroyed most of what he hoped to build.
As President Obama begins his walk down a similar path, people ponder; what might President Obama plan and unintentionally promote. For President Johnson, a single war, not the one on poverty, but instead the fight on foreign soil stood in his way. The fiscal burden was a heavy weight on the nation’s budget. Nevertheless, President Johnson insisted that the Administration ardently pursue American involvement in Vietnam while spending billions of dollars on domestic problems. Much like our present President, Mister Obama, who eagerly escalates the war in Afghanistan, Lyndon Johnson believed he could attach inequities on the home front and still secure a win on distant shores.
Each Commander-In-Chief seemed to understand the excessive strain on the economy; yet, Johnson and Obama remained stalwart; they could do it all. President Johnson, in time, relented. He resigned himself to defeat. He had not succeeded in his fight against poverty; nor did he triumph in Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson exited the Executive Office without the legacy he had hoped to leave. Mister Obama, some say will realize the same fate. Others observe that he has a luxury that President Johnson did not have. Obama, just as his immediate predecessor had, learned from history.
In the mid-1960s, the Great Society was born and brushed aside. The futility of the battles and American blood shed was a load too large for average citizens to bear. Ordinary people protested. The emphasis President Johnson had hoped to place on poverty was lost. Thus, the desire to eliminate dearth in the world’s wealthiest country went by the wayside. The thought to offer equal opportunities to the economically oppressed was forfeited. Combat was far more visible then the poor. This truth taught all President’s since Johnson that if you want the people to support your agenda, hide what you do not want the people to see.
Today, photographs of struggles do not fill the airwaves. Earlier Administration made certain of this and the American people accepted the bliss of ignorance. People in the States prefer to believe that they support the soldiers, even though American policies lead these young men and women to slaughter.
Radio Broadcasters barely, rarely, or never mention the body counts abroad. Homeless persons, huddled together for warmth on the streets of the world’s wealthiest nation do not cause a stir. Journalists just walk right past the indigents. The fortunate few impecunious, those who can afford a room are easy to avoid, especially since they had dispersed. The Suburbanization of Poverty helped to further isolate individuals who most Americans wish to keep invisible.
In the year 2010, there is no need to mention a misery out of sight, not the war in the Middle East or the economic conflict between the classes. Announcers would rather rant, rage, and argue about Party politics, report on ploys, or discuss the latest and greatest scandal.
Then and now, the underprivileged are, time and again, avoided, ignored, or intentionally hidden. Embarrassed by their plight, the destitute do not speak up. On occasion, these individuals are overwhelmed with what they must to do just to survive. This serves Administrations well. Issues, silently secured away from the masses, and the media, also work well for our Congressmen and women.
Without awareness for the fallen, soldiers family’s, and the unfortunate thousands who do more than flirt with financial failures, Americans never think to address these costly concerns, poverty and warfare. Legislators in our nation’s Capitol like that.
Therefore, those who lack a more powerful political presence require someone in Washington to talk for them. Lyndon Johnson hoped to articulate what the all too frequently concealed could not.
Today, the disadvantaged have gone the way of the past President. Frequently, they are the objects of scorn. People perceive the wars Johnson waged were lost. Neither Vietnam, the conflict that the Johnson presidency is oft remembered for, nor the Great Society ended the way Mister Johnson envisioned. In truth, no Chief Executive of this country can move the mountains of policies that establish and maintain poverty. That is a task only the people can accomplish. We, the people, if change is to come, must never forget that we are the voice of the downtrodden, or could be.
However, in the many decades that have passed, the public has chosen not to take up the call. Communities separate and on their own have not cared to become Great Societies. Instead, individually, and as neighbors, we have weakened the structure that could have supported those without the dollars to purchase the bootstraps the impoverished are told to use to pull themselves up.
As a nation, we do not provide adequate education for the poor. Thus, success, or jobs that provide a sufficient salary are lost. As a society, we relegate the less skilled to service positions. They may live closer to the more stable and secure citizens, indeed, they may need to in order to survive. Yet, the penniless are no better off. They are barely able to adopt the label of Suburbanites. This poverty-stricken population has boomed; yet, even in the ‘burbs the underprivileged are no better off, just better concealed
Please ponder the plight that currently permeates our Nation. Text and statistics are presented below in The Suburbanization of Poverty: Trends in Metropolitan America, 2000 to 2008.
The Suburbanization of Poverty: Trends in Metropolitan America, 2000 to 2008
Elizabeth Kneebone, Senior Research Analyst and Emily Garr, Senior Research Assistant
The Brookings Institution
January 20, 2010
An analysis of the location of poverty in America, particularly in the nation’s 95 largest metro areas in 2000, 2007, and 2008 reveals that:
By 2008, suburbs were home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in the country. Between 2000 and 2008, suburbs in the country’s largest metro areas saw their poor population grow by 25 percent—almost five times faster than primary cities and well ahead of the growth seen in smaller metro areas and non-metropolitan communities. As a result, by 2008 large suburbs were home to 1.5 million more poor than their primary cities and housed almost one-third of the nation’s poor overall. Midwestern cities and suburbs experienced by far the largest poverty rate increases over the decade. Led by increasing poverty in auto manufacturing metro areas—like Grand Rapids and Youngstown—Midwestern city and suburban poverty rates climbed 3.0 and 2.2 percentage points, respectively. At the same time, Northeastern metros—led by New York and Worcester— actually saw poverty rates in their primary cities decline, while collectively their suburbs experienced a slight increase. In 2008, 91.6 million people—more than 30 percent of the nation’s population—fell below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. More individuals lived in families with incomes between 100 and 200 percent of poverty line (52.5 million) than below the poverty line (39.1 million) in 2008. Between 2000 and 2008, large suburbs saw the fastest growing low-income populations across community types and the greatest uptick in the share of the population living under 200 percent of poverty. Western cities and Florida suburbs were among the first to see the effects of the “Great Recession” translate into significant increases in poverty between 2007 and 2008. Sun Belt metro areas hit hardest by the collapse of the housing market saw significant gains in poverty between 2007 and 2008, with suburban increases clustered in Florida metro areas—like Miami, Tampa, and Palm Bay—and city poverty increases most prevalent in Western metro areas— like Los Angeles, Riverside, and Phoenix. Based on increases in unemployment over the past year, Sun Belt metro areas are also likely to experience the largest increases in poverty in 2009.
If common citizens are as committed to change as they said they were during the 2008 election cycle, let us look back so that we might move forward. Consider the United States Constitution. This divine document states, that average Americans, can petition our Representatives of what matters, society as a whole. After all, it is we, the people, who place men and women into Congressional offices. Our Senators, and those in the House, know who has the truest influence. Corporations cannot employ our Representatives without our permission. You, I, and even the registered impoverished voter, can, and must, create the Great Society that Lyndon Baines Johnson did not. I think such a provision is our right and responsibility, For as Author John Donne recited . . .
“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…
As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….
No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
~ John Donne
References for A Great Society Lost To War . . .
- John Gardner; Engineer of the Great Society. Public Broadcasting Services.
- Obama’s War. Public Broadcasting Services.
- Gulf War Coverage. By Jim Naureckas. FAIR. 1991
- The Suburbanization of Poverty: Trends in Metropolitan America, 2000 to 2008. Brookings Institute.
- Amid Obama Surge, Troops Prepare for Afghanistan Perils, Hardships, By David Wood. Politics Daily. March 23, 2010
copyright © 2010 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org