50 years into the war on poverty, gender analysis needed


Bourgeois (read: mostly white) feminism is currently, finally untenable — politically, personally, and almost universally. Thanks to many, many working class people and minorities raising their voices and elevating their experiences as a political priority, there’s a general consensus around this these days, even if many feminists, old-guard and new-guard alike, don’t know quite what that will look like. Like so many feminist breakthroughs, this one has stemmed from a great, at times unspeakable, need. Because even though it’s been fifty years since President Lyndon Johnson declared an ”unconditional war on poverty in America”–and despite the many important social safety net programs that came out if this commitment–poverty in this country remains a dire problem.

We live in a world in which our astonishing wealth inequality is dwarfed only by the widespread denial of its scope and breadth, fueling inaction and even disdain. Poverty is treated asspectacle yet too often ignored in our midst.  We have a President who reminds us that the economy hasn’t always worked for everyone, and who claims to be for the working class — but is sometimes too slow or mired in politics to deliver on this rhetoric or fix the ways it still doesn’t work for everyone today.

The intersection of poverty and gender is unavoidable. Women in America, and around the world, suffer disproportionately from poverty, particularly women of color. And there are obvious connections with reproductive health, for example, as study after study shows that women who are denied abortions experience declines in physical health and economic stability.

Here at Feministing, I’m proud of our ongoing and comprehensive support of working-class causes such as the Fast Food Forward national campaign, support for raising the minimum wage,immigration reform, and lots more. But, to be honest, as a movement we have really only skimmed the surface in terms of how we work with and for working class people — and not just occasionally “on behalf” of them.

As we mark the 50th anniversary on the war on poverty–and look ahead to the next stage of combating inequality in this country–here are three of my favorite reads:

Maria Shriver shows us the female face of poverty in The Atlantic today (though I wish she didn’t feel the need to issue that disclaimer about her own personal wealth status). In a country where women make up nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers in the country and still make only 77 cents to the dollar compared to men, it’s clear that we “cannot have sustained economic prosperity and well-being until women’s central role is recognized and women’s economic health is used as a measure to shape policy.”

Bringing us excellent journalism, as usual, Mother Jones offers six charts on how we’ve won — and lost — the war on poverty. While it lifted millions out of poverty, long-standing racial disparities remain stark. “The current poverty rate for African Americans is 27.2 percent, and just 9.2 percent for white people. It’s 25.6 for Hispanics, and 11.7 percent for Asian Americans.”

At Think Progress, Igor Volsky provides a depressingly devastating decade-by-decade critique of our political and social failings, showing how racism and sexism have combined to undermine the war on poverty. “Beginning in 1964 and stretching through today, conservative leaders systematically undermined the programs that shaped Johnson’s War on Poverty, frequently deploying racist and sexist arguments to take away public assistance from the poorest Americans.”

Read up, then stand up.

Lori Adelman is ready for the next thing.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman started blogging with Feministing in 2008, and now runs partnerships and strategy as a co-Executive Director. She is also the Director of Youth Engagement at Women Deliver, where she promotes meaningful youth engagement in international development efforts, including through running the award-winning Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Lori was formerly the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and has also worked at the United Nations Foundation on the Secretary-General's flagship Every Woman Every Child initiative, and at the International Women’s Health Coalition and Human Rights Watch. As a leading voice on women’s rights issues, Lori frequently consults, speaks and publishes on feminism, activism and movement-building. A graduate of Harvard University, Lori has been named to The Root 100 list of the most influential African Americans in the United States, and to Forbes Magazine‘s list of the “30 Under 30” successful mediamakers. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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