Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in his 1964 State of the Union address, saying, “This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.” Johnson wanted to “break the cycle of poverty” and “make taxpayers out of tax-eaters.” In the 54 years since war was declared, we have spent over 22 trillion dollars on anti-poverty programs, three times the cost of all the wars America has ever fought. And yet, the poverty rate remains unchanged. This is sadly true in cities across upstate New York. Unfortunately for those trapped in poverty, progressive solutions remain the go-to for elected officials and journalists alike.
An article by Jeff Platsky appeared in the Elmira Star-Gazette on September 13th 2018. The link appears below.
Platsky cites the American Community Survey, which finds that three upstate cities are in the top 25 in the nation in child poverty and overall poverty.
Rochester has 56.4% of its children living in poverty, third worst in the nation, and 32.3% of its people in poverty, 12th worst nationally.
In Syracuse, 47.4% of children live in poverty, 10th worst, and 32.4 % overall are below the poverty line, 9th worst.
Buffalo has 43.6% of its children living in poverty, 17th worst in the nation, and 29.6% of its citizens in poverty, 24th worst nationally.
These numbers ought to set off alarm bells across New York State, hearings in the NYS Senate and Assembly, heated questions to the Governor and other Democrat leaders, and scathing editorials from Buffalo to Albany. But there’s been nary a peep. Why?
For his part, Platsky interviews the 14-term Assemblyman and Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle (D), who says these numbers should be a call to action for New York. Morelle blames uneven job growth, industrial loss and the old standby, “structural racism.”
These cities have been decaying for as long as Morelle has been in the Assembly. Morelle is the second highest ranking Democrat in the Assembly. He helps set the legislative agenda. Democrats run the Assembly and, notably, all these cities. Rochester has had Democrat mayors since 1970. Syracuse had Democrat mayors from 1970 to 2017; an independent now runs the city. As for Buffalo, it has been run by Democrats since 1966. Democrats occupy every statewide office and have done so for 12 years.
Several things are apparent. The war on poverty is an abject failure. The promise was to end poverty, but poverty is alive and well. The progressive idea that big government can solve individual and family problems should be put to rest once and for all. Yet it lives. Why? And why do people who live in continual poverty keep voting for the same people?
Platsky never asks Morelle about government policy on the state or federal level. This allows Morelle to answer as a bystander and not a policy maker. Platsky’s article reads like: “One day poverty happened – who knows how or why?” Here are some questions he should have asked: Mr. Morelle, you’ve been in the New York State Assembly for 28 years, several as Majority Leader. Are you in part responsible for this? Mr. Morelle, is the 54-year-old war on poverty a failure? You said structural racism was in part responsible. Could you define that term and tell us exactly who is discriminating against the residents of Rochester, Buffalo et. al.? Mr. Morelle, your party has been in charge of the state and these cities. Does the Democrat party bear any responsibility for the poverty in upstate cities?
The press never questions the effectiveness of progressive policies and never asks Democrats about those failures. Therefore, the unfortunate residents of these cities never hear a critique of the policies that keep them in poverty.
Michael A. Morrongiello, Ph. D.