50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty

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50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty

In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty in America,” urging Congress and all Americans to join him in the fight. The War on Poverty provided unprecedented federal support to combat poverty and created many programs still in existence today, including Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Fifty years later, the U.S. poverty rate hovers around 15 percent — just 4 percent below 1964 levels. Economic opportunity and upward mobility remain at the core of our nation’s identity and form the foundation of the American Dream. As policymakers seek to foster opportunities for all Americans, it is critical that their decisions be informed by a robust and nonpartisan fact base on the issues.

Pew’s economic mobility project works to uncover the factors that matter most in determining why Americans move up or down the economic ladder. The project’s research fosters policy debate and action on how best to improve economic opportunities and keep the American Dream alive for future generations. 

Erin Currier

Fifty years after the start of the War on Poverty, more than 40 percent of Americans raised at the bottom of the income ladder remain there. Promoting opportunity for all Americans will require measures that both alleviate poverty and increase upward mobility.”
—Erin Currier, director, Pew’s economic mobility project

Mobility and the Metropolis: This report shows that neighborhoods play an important role in determining a family’s prospects of moving up the economic ladder. Metropolitan areas where the wealthy and poor live apart have lower mobility than areas where residents are more economically integrated.

Moving on Up: Most Americans raised at the bottom of the income ladder never reach the middle rung. This report, “Moving On Up,” examines the traits of those who are able to move up from their starting place at the bottom of the income ladder to the second rung, or even to the middle of the income distribution.

Faces of Economic Mobility:This interactive data tool explores income and wealth mobility for 16 family types, providing a unique perspective on how education, family structure, and race affect Americans’ likelihood to do better or worse than their parents did financially.

Pursuing the American Dream: Pew's report on economic mobility shows a mixed view. While a majority of Americans exceed their parents’ family income and wealth, the extent of their absolute mobility gains is not always enough to move them up the economic ladder.

Data from Pew's Economic Mobility Project

Economic Mobility of the States: A new interactive tool that captures the findings of the first analysis of Americans’ economic mobility — their movement up and down the earnings ladder — at the state level, including data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Welfare Reform and Intergenerational Mobility: This 2010 report reviewed research on the impact of the 1996 welfare reform law on the economic mobility of TANF recipients and their children. The review found that research investigating the impact of welfare reform on the economic outcomes of children was limited, but the research that did exist showed no evidence that children had seen large benefits or harm as a result of the legislation.

Renewing the American Dream: A Road Map to Enhancing Economic Mobility in America. The economic mobility project draws on its expertise and three years of research to compile a series of policy ideas.

Neighborhoods and the Black-White Mobility Gap: The economic mobility project’s research demonstrates a striking mobility gap between blacks and whites. This report examined one factor: the impact of neighborhood poverty rates experienced during childhood.

How Much Does the Federal Government Spend to Promote Economic Mobility and for Whom? This 2008 report examined exactly how much the federal government invests in the American Dream and encourages economic mobility, what form this encouragement takes and who benefits from these efforts.

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