Congressional Black Caucusby Representative Daniel T. Kildee
Posted on 2014-01-08
KILDEE. I thank the gentlelady from California (Ms. Lee) for her
leadership and her stewardship of this important obligation that we are
here to commemorate.
Mr. Speaker, it was 50 years ago today that President Johnson stood at that podium right in front of us. I can still conjure the images of that speech. Of course, these are images of black and white recordings of President Johnson standing there. It reminds me of the special obligation that we are called to and that he articulated so well half a century ago. I was 5 years old when he gave that speech. But like many I know here, I was sort of a precocious kid, and I was really, really interested in our government and in politics, and I followed it from a very young age--even that tender age of 5.
I remember as a kid in the 1960s and early 1970s going through school thinking that the great struggles--the civil rights struggle, the women's rights movement, this war on poverty--were the big fights of our generation. In some ways, I almost felt at that point in time a moment had passed me by never imagining that when the time came so many years later and I would have an opportunity to serve in Congress that we are actually still fighting those same fights, that we are still engaged in that same struggle.
Fifty years later, after President Johnson's speech, in the wealthiest society ever imagined, we are still fighting this war on poverty. In fact, we are seeing recently growing disparity, growing inequality in our society. We have not eradicated poverty. In fact, we haven't yet gotten to the point where we can say we are close.
We do continue that battle. The battle over unemployment insurance, for example, is a part of that same fight. Some in this body would choose to continue their crusade to cut that important program. We have to remind ourselves that just since 2008, 11 million Americans have been saved from poverty because they were able to have that unemployment insurance available to keep them whole until they could find new meaningful, rewarding work.
So instead of cutting these important programs--Head Start, our nutrition programs, the programs that actually change the trajectory of the lives of those who are struggling to find their way in our society--we ought to be doubling those investments, we ought to be making sure that no American ever has to wonder if they will fall below that common floor of decency that we all would agree should be part of any civilized society.
We should have a minimum wage in this country that guarantees that people who work full time don't live in poverty. Fifty years later, we have got a lot of work to do.
I heard the other day--I will close by saying this--I heard the other day a Member of the other body make a comment that perhaps we ought to simply acknowledge that in this Nation we have lost the war on poverty, when 50 years ago a quarter of our society was living in poverty and today that number is 16 percent. While we know we have a long way to go, we know that these programs actually do work. We have to ask ourselves what kind of country, what kind of society do we [[Page H52]] want to be? I think if we answer the question right we will live up to the challenge that President Johnson laid down 50 years ago.