Why America Lost the War on Poverty-- and How to Win It

Why America Lost the War on Poverty-- and How to Win It

Why America Lost the War on Poverty-- and How to Win It

Why America Lost the War on Poverty-- and How to Win It


Analyzing the War on Poverty, theories of the culture of poverty and the underclass, the effects of Reaganomics, and the 1996 welfare reform, Stricker demonstrates that most antipoverty approaches are futile without the presence (or creation) of good jobs. He argues that a serious public debate is needed about the job situation; social programs must be redesigned, a national health care program must be developed, and economic inequality must be addressed. If we actually want to reduce poverty significantly, he says, we must expand decent jobs and government income programs, redirecting national resources away from the rich and toward those with low incomes.


I was not poor when I grew up in the 50s, but I know that my family felt cramped. We had five people in a small house with two bedrooms. My father, a house painter, worked hard and usually steadily, but he probably did not charge his customers enough. The family never had a vacation together. I remember my mother using a wooden egg to darn a patch where we had holes in our socks.

I have rarely been unemployed. For most of my high school and college years I worked in the university library or as my father’s assistant. I recall that at one point in the early 1960s my dad was paying me $5 an hour; that was the equivalent of more than $30 today. My father was too generous as an employer, as he was too generous to his customers. But the high pay for an apprentice house painter seems appropriate to that better time for American workers.

Although I suffered only one year of real unemployment in my life, I had more than a decade of worries about keeping the academic position I accepted at California State, Dominguez Hills, in the fall of 1972. California’s finances were on a three-decade seesaw, and faculty and staff often worried that they would be laid off. Most weren’t, but the dark cloud of unemployment stayed with me for a long time. And it stayed over the California State Universities, although its shape has changed; now Cal State makes extensive use of underemployed and underpaid part-time professors.

Poverty and living standards have been an interest for many years. In the 70s and 80s I participated in meat boycotts, worked with unions, studied the latest inflation and unemployment crises, and learned about Marxism. I have never taken an economics course, and perhaps it shows. But I learned a lot about economics and history from friends in the New American Movement and in the Westcoast Association of Marxist Historians.

By the time I decided to write this book, I had been teaching and writing about poverty, incomes, and unemployment for two decades. Although I am undeniably comfortable today, I have not forgotten where I came from or that life is an economic struggle for most people, even in this, the richest nation in . . .

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