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Rob Horowitz: The War On Poverty, 50 Years Later

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


We may not have declared victory in the War on Poverty yet, but we are certainly not fighting a losing battle.

Fifty years ago last week, President Johnson, in his first State of the Union Address, famously launched the War on Poverty. Never one to set small goals, Johnson said, “Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope-some because of their poverty, and some because of their skin color and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity. This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.”

It is accurate to say that most Americans do not view the War on Poverty as an unqualified success. A majority don’t go as far as President Reagan did when he famously said, "In the sixties we waged a war on poverty, and poverty won." But a recent poll conducted for the Center for American Progress shows that only 1 in 5 Americans believe that the War on Poverty has made a major difference. An additional 41 percent say that it has made a minor difference.

Not surprisingly, attitudes about the War on Poverty break down along largely partisan, ideological, and racial lines. For example, as the report states, “Nearly 7 in 10 (69 percent) white liberals and progressives believe the War on Poverty has worked, and more than 6 in 10 (64 percent) white conservatives and libertarians believe the opposite”.

These mixed views are understandable when one considers that the official poverty rate in the United States has only dropped from about 19% when the War on Poverty was launched 50 years ago to about 15% today.

Great progress made...

However, the official poverty rate, because it does not count the assistance provided by the very programs put in place by the War on Poverty, dramatically understates the real progress that has been made. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Arloc Sherman points out, “A poverty measure that, as most analysts recommend, accounts for (rather than ignores) major non-cash benefits that the official poverty measure leaves out—namely, SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps), rent subsidies, and tax credits for working families—would find that poverty in the United States today is considerably lower than it was throughout the 1960s, despite today’s weaker economy."

Sherman adds, “Average household income for the bottom fifth of Americans (counting non-cash benefits and tax credits, adjusted for inflation and changes in household size) was more than 75 percent higher in 2011 than in 1964.

...But more work to be done

Still, by anyone’s measure there are too many Americans who remain mired in poverty, and 1 in 5 children today grow up in households who fall below the official poverty line. Even with the use of a more accurate measure of poverty, that still leaves far too many of our kids without the basic building blocks essential to future success and happiness.

The best answers to poverty then and now remain expanding opportunity, access to a quality education, and good paying jobs available for people who work hard and play by the rules. In today’s tough, competitive, and volatile global economy, there is even more of a need for a strong safety net. But it is not the ultimate solution. Let’s use the 50-year mark on the War on Poverty to spur a competition for the best ideas to generate significant growth in middle income jobs—ones where people earn enough so they can raise a family. We may never completely defeat poverty, but we can sure continue to significantly reduce it.


Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Gina Raimondo Has to Answer When Running for Governor

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10. Money

Can she explain the amount of out of state money?

Most of the candidates for Governor need to answer the question, can they raise enough to be competitive? That is not a problem for Raimondo. She has proven to be the most skilled fundraiser, but her issue is justifying that the vast majority of the money is coming from out-of-state.

Raimondo will face a number of questions regarding who is really behind her campaign - the amount of out-of-state dollars is just one of the questions.

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9. Pension Reform

Did she only reform certain pensions?

Raimondo rose to celebrity status because of her leadership on pension reform. Her efforts helped to stabilize the pension system, but the reform was hardly democratic.

Teachers took the vast majority of the hit, while major groups of pensioners escaped reform including the judges, state police and disability pensioners. Raimondo has some explaining to do.

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8. Lack of Transparency

If she lacks transparency as Treasurer, what will it be like as Governor?

From her deepest critics to the media and even members of the retirement board, many have questioned her and her office's willingness to share information and provide the public insights into her management of the investment commission and the performance of the fund under her leadership.

Data which historically was easily accessed by the public and media is now locked behind the Raimondo wall. Often this raises serious questions and forces the media to seek the simplest information via FOIA requests.

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7. Wall Street

Why is Wall Street spending so much money supporting Raimondo?

Raimondo is the queen of fundraising and so much of it derives from the major players on Wall Street.

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6. Performance

Has Raimondo managed the pension fund competently?

The most important job of the General Treasurer might be the management of the state's retirement fund. The blockbuster investigative piece by Stephen Beale unveiled that the pension system under Raimondo lost $200 million

While she may be able to blitz the airwaves with positive messages about her bio and her leadership in pension reform, her Democratic primary competitors and/or her GOP opponent in the General Election may be able to destroy her credibility by playing up her "mismanagement of the pension system."

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5. Hedge Funds

Will Raimondo pay the price for shifting so much of the assets into Hedge Funds?

For the past six months, Raimondo has been under constant critique for shifting more than 20% of the State's retirement dollars into unregulated Hedge Funds. The critics has included forensic auditor/Forbes contributor Ted Siedle, Rolling Stones magazine's star reporter Matt Taibbi, former General Treasurer and candidate again, Frank Caprio, as well as many of the public unions. The combination of where she gets her campaign dollars, coupled with the shift in investment strategy and the under performance of the fund may all build into a snowball effect.

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4. Connect to RIers

Educated at Yale and Harvard, a Rhode Scholar and a millionaire, can she connect to the average RIer?

Raimondo is a born and bred Rhode Islander, but for her adult life she has been educated at the best colleges in the world and living a professional life aligned with many of America's super rich associated with Wall Street. In her announcement she mentioned a number of times she was a mother, but did not mention that her husband is a partner at Mckinsey - and according to Forbes magazine probably takes home $2 million or so per year.

Raimondo talks a lot about her father losing his job when she was a child, but she has come a long way since then. She could come across as the ultimate RI success story or be perceived as an out of touch venture capitalist.

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3. Siedle and Taibbi

Neither Ted Siedle or Matt Taibbi are going away - can she deflect their questions and charges?

In the past two months, both forensic auditor/Forbes columnist Ted Siedle and Rolling Stone's star reporter Matt Taibbi have raised serious issues about Raimondo's motivation and judgment.

As Taibbi wrote, "The dynamic young Rhodes scholar was allowing her state to be used as a test case for the rest of the country, at the behest of powerful out-of-state financiers with dreams of pushing pension reform down the throats of taxpayers and public workers from coast to coast."

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/looting-the-pension-funds-20130926#ixzz2o2bLhqKW

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2. Is she a Democrat?

Will Taveras and Pell paint her to be too conservative?

Raimondo is simply hated by the teachers unions and others - big blocks of voters in the Democratic primary. Both Clay Pell and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras will tack to the left and may compete for the same voters allowing her to sneak through to the general. However, progressives and unions may decide to pick Pell over Taveras (who is struggling to raise money and whose track record in Providence may come under fire) and then Pell can take the left leaning primary.

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1. SEC Investigation

Can Raimondo survive an SEC investigation?

Both Siedle and a state senator have written to the SEC calling for an investigation into the investment practices of Raimondo. A federal investigation would be at a minimum a black eye to the General Treasurer and an enforcement action might end a credible campaign. Timing may prove to be everything.


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