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Rev. Jackson: 50 years later, time for a new War on Poverty

Updated: February 10, 2014 12:03PM

The Rev. Jesse Jackson called for a revival of the 1960s-era War on Poverty, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s initiative that brought us Head Start, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, various job training programs and also ramped up funding for welfare and public housing.

In a news conference Wednesday, the 50th anniversary of Johnson’s War on Poverty speech, Jackson said that many of these problems are under attack or have been eliminated and that the number of poor has grown to record levels.

“Poverty in America is becoming a crisis presenting unprecedented challenges for our nation,” Jackson said. “So now you have a war on the War on Poverty and when you cut food stamps and Medicaid and close post offices you are inducing poverty.”

Jackson proposed increased government investment in education and job training, and said non-violent offenders should be put to work fixing up homes in neighborhoods decimated by foreclosures.

“Education costs less than incarceration, employment costs less than unemployment, growth costs less than poverty,” Jackson said at a news conference Wednesday morning at Hope Presbyterian Church in Englewood.

Jackson was accompanied by local pastors, activist Catholic priest Rev. Michael Pfleger and state Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago.

Jackson said the original War on Poverty was announced a year after Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech.

“The dream has no meaning without a plan or a budget to fulfill the dream,” Jackson said. “That was the War on Poverty.”

The Chicago civil rights leader said that he planned to reach out to the president, governors and Congress and tell them “Don’t just celebrate Dr. King’s March on Washington dream, support the Johnson agenda which is the fulfillment of the dream.”

Pfleger joined Jackson in criticizing the American government for spending money overseas while disinvestment is occurring in poor neighborhoods.

“If we have refused to pull out of Iraq or Afghanistan until they were secured, why have we pulled out of the War on Poverty when there’s millions of Americans who are not secure right now, today living on the streets and living in abandoned buildings,” Pfleger said. “It’s time to go back to the War on Poverty and it’s time to care about poor people.”

Jackson did not address critics of President Johnson’s social programs who claim that welfare and public housing as implemented by the federal government helped destroy black families and communities. But he did say programs such as Head Start preschools and job training were proven to work.

Before Jackson ended the news conference to walk the streets of Englewood looking for abandoned buildings, he gave a parting shot to those who would end the War on Poverty.

“I think it’s unfair for a nation that’s supposed to be so Christian, so religious, to be so contemptuous of poor people,” he said. “Poor people want to work. Matter of fact, they do work. No one catches three buses to get to work every day except poor people. No one works harder and longer than poor people.”

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