Butler County Times Gazette
  • Kent Bush: War on poverty may never be won

  • Even my 10-year old understands how the world works
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  • Some problems just can’t be solved.
    It has been 50 years since Lyndon B. Johnson made his speech envisioning a Great Society. In LBJ’s Great Society, he envisioned reducing pollution and eliminating poverty and racial injustice.
    Despite Republican talking points to the contrary, racism hasn’t been eradicated. But we have come a long way in the past five decades to provide a level playing field for all people regardless of their skin color.
    But the war on poverty is a war we may never win.
    Even Jesus said, “You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to.” (Mark 14:7a)
    The War on Poverty included provisions that wisely didn’t just attempt to raise the income of poor people in America. A great deal of the money was allocated to education, job training and other programs that helped people raise themselves out of poverty.
    This wasn’t an example of extreme legislative genius. It was reality.
    Even my 10-year old understands how the world works.
    During a guys’ night out where I took both of my sons out for some fun, we were talking about what we would do if we won a million dollars. Blake said he would spend some of his money to help homeless people because he hated it that they didn’t have somewhere to live.
    He started down a path of idealism at that point but somehow the little realist I have planted in his brain made a quick detour.
    “Maybe there would be less homeless people if we could give everyone a million dollars,” Blake thought out loud. But he quickly realized the error of his thinking. “No. Some people would just waste it or lose it and there would still be homeless people.”
    I was more than a little proud. I do believe that we should have programs for people whose circumstances have left them at a disadvantage. Some people born in poverty are equally intelligent, hard-working and talented as those born alongside country clubs.
    I think we need programs to help those people who have the ability and desire to change their circumstances. But throwing money at problems doesn’t always work.
    Some people are where they are and regardless of the programs you institute, they will still be there generations later. You just need to see the focus put on the Appalachian mountain region for an example. The Appalachian Regional Development Act came along in 1965 as part of Johnson’s Great Society legislative program.
    Educational facilities and opportunities were improved. Job programs were instituted. Infrastructure was expanded.
    Page 2 of 2 - But 50 years later, USA Today and the National Review are still doing stories about the poorest counties in America and how the poverty rates in the area are still among the highest in America.
    How can that be? Sometimes culture is impossible to overcome. When people believe life is much better because after 50 years, most people in the area have indoor plumbing – though many still rely on government subsidies to pay monthly bills – poverty is a certainty.
    Don’t read this to mean I don’t believe programs can and do work. The poverty rates there now are just over 35 percent. In 1964, more than half of the households in the region lived in extreme poverty.
    We certainly haven’t won the war on poverty but there have been some battles that went in our favor. Almost one in five families that would have been living in abject poverty has escaped the gravitational pull of culture and the weight of disadvantage thanks to the country’s investment in the area.
    That is a good result. But at the end of the day, whether you are a legislator or just someone trying to help, you have to realize that some battles won’t be won despite your good intentions.
    Bush is the publisher of the Butler County Times Gazette and can be reached at: kbush@butlercountytimesgazette.com

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