We’ve seen a dramatic shift in the 50 years since the launch of the War on Poverty. In today’s economy, poverty increasingly falls on women. They make up over half the workforce, and two out of three mothers are the primary or co-breadwinner for their household.
But one thing hasn’t changed since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the War on Poverty: When we think of the poor we still think of someone else. That’s why it’s crucial to share stories — including my own.
I grew up in a suburb of Boston, the child of two immigrants who had come from India decades earlier. We lived in Bedford, Massachusetts, a quintessential middle-class town. But when I was 5, my parents got divorced and my dad left. My mother was on her own.
She had never held a job before. She faced the choice of going back to India or staying in the United States and going on welfare to support her two young children. In India, she knew, we would have been stigmatized — no one got divorced there in the 1970s. Children of a divorced woman would have limited life opportunities.
So she decided to stay in the United States. Welfare gave her that choice. We were on food stamps and received housing vouchers to help pay the rent. Thanks to a new state law, we could use those vouchers to move into an apartment in Bedford and remain in our good local public schools. After three years, my mom got a job and moved up. By the time I was 11, she was able to buy her own house in Bedford.