President Barack Obama’s recent speeches at the LBJ Presidential Library and National Action Network marking the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Act had a serious omission. While acknowledging “our work is unfinished,” Obama failed to mention this nation’s worst social trend: the stunning increase of children and youth living in poverty.
Since 1969, the proportion of children and youth in poverty rose by 56 percent, even as the economic fortunes of the elderly improved under programs like Medicare and Social Security. Today, 32 million American children and youth are confronting poverty — including 7 million suffering utter destitution, another 9 million living in serious poverty and 16 million more in low-income households struggling just above poverty lines.
Even as Obama has launched My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative to help poorer young men, his administration continues to largely ignore this larger issue. In fact, Obama said, addressing youth poverty “doesn’t take all that much.” No federal money has been budgeted for the initiative.
Instead, My Brother’s Keeper is initially to raise $7.5 million from 10 major foundations for “consultants,” and then perhaps attract $200 million in “private investments” over the next five years — largely aimed at mentoring, church and related programs. One key component, for example, is an effort to make sure impoverished young people “make better decisions.”
My Brother’s Keeper simply rehashes earlier efforts: President Bill Clinton’s “personal responsibility” campaign of the 1990s, the Robert F. Kennedy/Ford Foundation “Gray Areas Program” of the 1960s and similar government/private ventures. All promised new breakthroughs. None produced enduring success.