Poverty levels have been stuck at near-historic levels in recent years, but President Obama on Wednesday glossed over those troubling figures and defended his record.
In a statement marking 50 years since President Johnson declared a war on poverty, Mr. Obama cast that effort as a success and said his administration has continued to make strides in helping Americans climb the economic ladder.
His comments come as the nation’s poverty rate remains at 15 percent, where it has stood for three consecutive years, a sustained level that hasn’t been seen since the mid-1960s.
In 1965, the U.S. poverty rate was 17.3 percent. Prior to the Great Recession, it was under 13 percent.
While Johnson’s $20 trillion war on poverty hasn’t had the dramatic effect that many hoped it would, Mr. Obama stressed that his administration has no intention of changing course and said the poverty rate actually would be higher were it not for the actions he’s taken over the past five years.
“Far too many children are still born into poverty, far too few have a fair shot to escape it and Americans of all races and backgrounds experience wages and incomes that aren’t rising,” Mr. Obama said. “That does not mean, as some suggest, abandoning the war on poverty. In fact, if we hadn’t declared unconditional war on poverty in America millions more Americans would be living in poverty today. Instead, it means we must redouble our efforts to make sure our economy works for every working American.”
The president went on to say his White House is committed to “helping our businesses create new jobs with stronger wages and benefits, expanding access to education and health care, rebuilding those communities on the outskirts of hope and constructing new ladders of opportunity for our people to climb” as part of the overall effort to combat poverty.
Mr. Obama has cited poverty rates, and the broader issue of income inequality in America, as a key priority in his second term.
Among other steps designed to lower poverty rates, the White House continues to push a hike in the nation’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10.
The president is expected to again call for raising the minimum wage in his Jan. 20 State of the Union address.