In the fifty years since President Johnson declared a War on Poverty, the nation has changed, often in dramatic ways. Manufacturing jobs—once the beacon to a better future for workers without a college degree—have all but disappeared, leaving a gaping hole where the pathway to the middle class used to be. Moving people from poverty to opportunity was a fundamental goal of Johnson’s war. Yet the poverty rate, at 15 percent today, is still unacceptably high. And, like 50 years, poverty rates are much higher for people of color.
But we also know more now than we did then. We know that ending inequality isn’t just a matter of morality, it is an economic imperative. Economists tell us that inequality hinders growth while greater inclusion accelerates it. Data documents that for the nation to prosper, everyone in it must have the opportunity to also do well. And we know how to make that happen.
Equity is the superior growth model.
Equity is both the antidote to inequality and the means to a future where everyone can participate and prosper. Through an equity lens the strategies needed for all to succeed are clear: jobs that pay decent wages, good education that prepares young people for the future and provides skills for adults who need them, and the removal of racial barriers to economic inclusion and civic participation.
Today, more than 50 percent of babies born in the United States are of color. By 2030, the majority of young people in the workforce will be of color. As the number of young people increases, the US population is aging. Who will be the entrepreneurs, innovators, workers of tomorrow? What are we prepared to do as a nation to guarantee a pipeline of talent to grow the economy and sustain it into the future?
The War on Poverty was a noble effort to right some of the nation’s most egregious wrongs. The challenges we face now are no less entrenched than in 1964. But with the passage of time wisdom grows. The hope is that the nation’s leaders will be courageous enough to seize the moment and hold fast to an equity agenda. Equity is the way to a strong economy and a more secure future.
– Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, started PolicyLink in 1999 and continues to drive its mission of advancing economic and social equity. Under Blackwell’s leadership, PolicyLink has become a leading voice in the movement to use public policy to improve access and opportunity for all low-income people and communities of color, particularly in the areas of health, housing, transportation, education, and infrastructure. Blackwell is the co-author of Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future (W.W. Norton & Co., 2010), and in 2013, Blackwell and PolicyLink collaborated with the Center for American Progress to write and release All In Nation: An America that Works for All. Blackwell currently serves on the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.
This post is part of the War on Poverty blog series from REDF.