REP. DAVE REED: Exploring why poverty continues
August 03, 2013 11:00 AM

It has been nearly a half-century since President Lyndon Johnson announced to a nation that he was declaring war on poverty in America. The president’s 1964 call to action brought a much-needed focus to an issue that was affecting one of every five citizens, and it spawned an army of new government-run programs designed to serve as the front line in his new battle.

Unfortunately, after decades of creating and expanding these programs, today we see that many of the problems Johnson sought to eliminate not only still exist, but also remain a mainstay in our communities.

It has been estimated that the federal government spends more than a trillion dollars annually on programs to help the poor. With approximately 46 million Americans living in poverty, this is enough in tax dollars to actually provide every low-income family of four with about $87,000 in cash each year.

At this level of spending and with the number of people still fighting poverty, it is evident that government’s efforts to combat this problem are falling short, and we need to learn why.

Here in Pennsylvania, more than 1.5 million residents remain confined to a life of poverty. For these folks, the promise of the American dream — work hard and you will be rewarded — is far too often obstructed by a series of complicated personal challenges.

Questions centering on which bills to pay or how to put food on the table represent a snapshot of the day-to-day decisions many families have been forced to make for years.

Recently, the House Republican Policy Committee announced a partnership initiative with community groups and faith-based organizations to begin taking a better look at poverty in Pennsylvania. The outreach initiative, “Empowering Opportunities: Gateways Out of Poverty,” is intended to begin a new discussion about effective approaches to transitioning our citizens toward a better way of life.

When Johnson said, “The real war to end all wars must be the war to eliminate poverty,” he charged Congress with developing solutions to eradicate the problem. This should always remain the ultimate goal, but to make greater progress we need to begin to determine what is and is not working.

As a society, we need to question why poverty continues to affect so many of our friends and neighbors. As a state, we need to take a good hard look at our own efforts and begin to reassess exactly how to best address this issue. As legislators, it is our duty to craft policies that leave future generations in better hands than when we took office.

By better understanding the causes and effects of poverty and the barriers families face in trying to escape it, we will be better equipped to offer fresh solutions. After all, there is no better future to provide the children of Pennsylvania than an uninhibited opportunity to live the American dream.

Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, represents the 62nd Legislative District in the state House of Representatives.

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