New Polling: Majority of Americans Believe Failure of Economy to Blame for Persistent Poverty

Fifty years after President Lyndon B. Johnson launched an “unconditional war on poverty” in his 1964 State of the Union address, most Americans believe that the failure of the economy to work for all keeps 46.5 million Americans in poverty and a third of Americans teetering on its brink.

While one-quarter to one-third of Americans – and even higher percentages of millennials and people of color – continue to experience direct economic hardship, according to new polling by the Half in Ten campaign and the Center for American Progress, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe people are poor because their jobs do not pay enough, they lack quality health insurance and education, and things cost too much for them to save and get ahead – rather than to a lack of personal effort, a common theme among conservatives.

The polling, released yesterday in a report titled “50 Years After LBJ’s ‘War on Poverty’: A Study of American Attitudes About Work, Economic Opportunity, and the Social Safety Net,” shows that a majority of Americans have a direct personal connection to poverty – a figure that is 65 percent for African Americans and 59 percent for Hispanics. Americans also very strongly support policies that help reduce poverty, such as the expansion of nutrition assistance, universal pre-kindergarten, and an increased minimum wage that rises with inflation.

“There is no question that the War on Poverty has worked for millions of Americans. And as these polling results demonstrate, the American consensus is that we need to stick with what’s worked while adopting new solutions for today’s problems,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Americans agree that we need to keep programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and SNAP but that we must also build an economy that works for everyone by investing in job creation, education, infrastructure, and policies that provide greater opportunity and a hand up to struggling families. It is now up to Congress to follow popular opinion and get to work.”

In addition to this report, the Center for American Progress also released a report yesterday titled “The War on Poverty: Then and Now, Applying Lessons Learned to the Challenges and Opportunities Facing a 21st-Century America.

The Half in Ten campaign is a partnership of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Coalition on Human Needs, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights that aims to cut the U.S. poverty rate in half in ten years.