Mariel Saez, 202-225-3130
WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) delivered the following remarks today on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty before a Poverty Simulation hosted by Catholic Charities USA and Entergy Corporation:
“Fifty years ago, President Johnson said this on the War on Poverty. He so boldly declared – now, I am old enough that I heard him say this, and I was excited about it: ‘It will not be a short or easy struggle. No single weapon or strategy will suffice. But we shall not rest until the war is won. The richest nation on Earth’ – still true to this day a half-century later – ‘can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.’
“Now, ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately, too often in this war, we have sounded the bugle of retreat. We cannot afford to do that, as Lyndon Johnson said. Today we have made significant strides towards safeguarding Americans who have fallen on hard times or those who were born into those hard times. But as participants will experience through today’s simulation, all of you, those experiencing poverty today face unbelievable hardships. Hardships that no one living in the wealthiest nation ever ought to endure.
“The causes of poverty are complex and rooted deeply in our history. A better understanding of what poverty really means will allow us to rededicate ourselves to the challenge of combating it, as the War on Poverty has as an objective eliminating it.
“Today we will have our chance to grow our understanding of poverty. After doing so, it is imperative that we translate that understanding into action: the most powerful weapons in the arsenal of prosperity – jobs and opportunity.
“I want to thank Entergy and Catholic Charities for making this exercise possible. And I want to thank [Rep.] Barbara Lee, Chair of the Democratic Whip’s Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity.
“I set that up because Congresswoman Lee observed that we talk a lot about the middle class. Tragically, in America, we see the middle class shrinking. What we need to do is expand the middle class. How do we expand the middle class? You add more people into the middle class. Where do you get those people? You get them from those who are in poverty. We want to lift them out of poverty. We want to give them the skills to earn a good living so that they are not in poverty and they can support themselves and their children.
“I also want to thank our co-sponsors who recognize that we need bipartisanship in this challenge. Almost every faith tells us to reach out and lift up those who have less than we do. Almost every faith. This is not a partisan issue. There are poor Republicans and poor Democrats. There are poor Independents. And there are poor people who have no idea what they are. Their struggle is so great that they don’t have time to think about anything other than survival.
“President Kennedy once said, ‘Let us not seek the Republican or the Democratic answer, but the right answer,’ and by that he meant correct answer. ‘Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past,’ Kennedy said. ‘Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.’ I would add to what Kennedy said: let us resolve to shape that future in a way that opens the doors to the American Dream for all people.
“I hope you have been as concerned as I have been about some of the academic research that has come about saying that America is no longer the country that has the most flexibility to go from poor to middle-class. But, in fact, barriers to doing that are still very significant in this, the country that we perceive to be the land of opportunity.
“We need to make sure that opportunity is open to all. Thank you again for participating, and thank you for your sponsorship. And, once you participate, then engage, advocate, and make sure America does, in fact, become a country that is again growing a middle class, as we bring millions of people out of poverty, into opportunity, and into self-sufficiency. Thank you very much.”