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50 Years Later, War on Poverty Continues

by | May 15, 2014 5:29am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Agriculture, Business, Equality, Jobs, Labor, Nonprofits

James Gatling and Deborah Monahan have been on the frontlines of Lyndon Johnson’s ‘War on Poverty’ for most of its 50 years.

Gatlin and Monahan head up Connecticut Community Action Agencies, which were created 50 years ago to help deliver the services Johnson envisioned in his 1964 State of the Union address to help lift families out of poverty. 

How many got out? Nationally, the poverty rate has fallen from 19 percent to 15 percent over the past two generations, but according to a report earlier this year by Pew Charitable Trusts, those rates vary from state to state. Based on U.S. Census data, poverty in Connecticut was around 9.6 percent in 1959. It dropped to 6 percent in 1990, and then went back up to 10.3 percent in 2012.

“One of the things most people don’t realize is people who have a job are still not making it and the elderly on fixed incomes that didn’t keep up with inflation really need the programs we provide,” Gatling said Tuesday in a phone interview.

He said the biggest change over the past few decades is who is walking through their doors. It’s not the stereotypical person with chronic homelessness, it’s people who have never sought any sort of public assistance before in their lives.

“These are educated people who have worked all of their lives and suddenly find themselves without a job and without unemployment benefits,” Gatling said.

Contributing to a stagnant economy struggling to rebound after the 2008 recession is the rapid globalization and automation of the workplace.

“There used to be people working at gas stations who would fill up your car and baggers at grocery stores,” he said. “Those jobs are gone and the policy makers aren’t looking at that.” He said the government should “help people get to the next level.”

Gatling, who is now the president and CEO of New Opportunities, has been with the agency since 1979. Monahan, who has been with the Thames Valley Council for Community Action Inc. for more than 40 years, said that they are seeing people they’ve never seen before come through their doors for assistance.

More than 365,800 people received services through one of the 11 Community Action Agencies in 2013 alone. That’s an increase of 2,273 individuals who were served by the agencies in 2012. The number of families served by the agencies between 2012 and 2013 rose by more than 20,000.

In 2013, more than 52,000 of the 365,800 people served by the agencies were employed. It’s unclear if their employment was full- or part-time. What is clear is that it’s still hard to get ahead.

“There are a lot of people in Connecticut who are working two and three jobs and have been doing so for as long as our agencies have been around,” Edith Karsky, executive director of the Connecticut Association for Community Action, said.

She said it’s shocking that people working multiple jobs can still qualify for these programs.

Karsky said one of the more startling statistics that shows how the need has increased since the recession hit has been the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. That program was serving 80,000 households a year prior to 2008, and now it’s serving about 110,000.

Monahan said there was a 62-year-old woman who came to her agency in search of energy assistance. During the interview with the agency the woman mentioned that she was a widow and had some tax liens on her home and was having trouble finding a job. The agency helped her find a job and she raised enough money to pay off the taxes and sell her home.

Monahan said the woman downsized and sent the agency a “thank you note,” which included a check for the energy assistance she had received the prior year. The woman asked the agency to give the money to another person in need.

“I don’t always think those stories are told,” Monahan said. “There’s a misconception that people are always taking and taking and that’s not the case. They’re extraordinarily generous.”

The Connecticut Community Action Agencies will hold a press conference at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the Legislative Office Building to talk more about the services they provide and the people they’ve helped.

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(7) Archived Comments

posted by: shinningstars122 | May 15, 2014  6:21am


This is a new reality post recession. The working class is living on the edge more now than ever.

Clearly income inequality has only deepned and made this problem more wide spread.

Is this the version of America Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor envision?

It is clear that if r>g is not encouraging the ” job creators” to invest in job creation and raising the standard of living in our country.

posted by: UConnHoop | May 15, 2014  7:51am

There is a certain population which will always necessarily need assistance.  People who are actually disabled, the elderly, etc…  Government should absolutely provide help to people who genuinely need help.  However, there is a significant portion of the population who has absolutely no interest in providing for themselves even though they’re able.  People need to learn that there is more to life than just relying on a government handout and we have to stop rewarding those who belong to the latter category.

posted by: ConnVoter | May 15, 2014  5:48pm

shinningstars122, what does income inequality have to do with any of this?

More clearly, Barack Obama is a multimillionaire, and Al Gore is a billionaire.  How are Mr. Obama’s or Mr. Gore’s riches preventing you from succeeding in life?

posted by: Joebigjoe | May 15, 2014  6:35pm

OMG UConn if I said that I would be called every name in the book. I guess that’s because I’m discriminated against because I’m Big.

I agree 100% with you. Why is it so hard for people to understand that we dont do nearly enough for those that cant help themselves and we should give them more by cutting the lazy excuse ridden bums off at the knees and use the money we take from them and put it where it’s needed.

Can’t do that though. The Man is against me, I can’t read, write, do basic math, or speak because I quit school, The Republicans did it to me…

There was other news today about the high school drop out rate in CT going down. That’s fantastic assuming its not manipulated data in an election year. I can only assume that 16 year olds realized that under Malloy and Obama’s policies that they cant drop out of school and get a job because employers are so strapped by regulations, taxes, and costs. Again, libs dont get it.

Saw a lady on TV today and the question was posed to her about the min wage. How about we raise the min wage for people that work in large corporations where they may be better able to cover that increased expense and leave it alone for the mom and pop pizza shop? Nope!! Can’t do that. Everyone needs a living wage. She thinks nothing of taking the money out of the small business owner that in these economic times may not even be paying themselves.

posted by: StillRevolting | May 15, 2014  7:41pm

@shinningstars122. You are actually hauling out the specter of the big bad conservative wolf to account for 50 years of liberal policy failure? Failure that is becoming more pronounced here than anywhere with CT having some of the biggest income and achievement gaps AND one of the most Progressive governments. I’d rather read posts that make me think instead of laugh. Try writing some.

posted by: art vandelay | May 16, 2014  5:40am

art vandelay

Well said. I couldn’t agree more.

posted by: Fisherman | May 16, 2014  7:45am

“These are educated people who have worked all of their lives and suddenly find themselves without a job and without unemployment benefits”

OK, so no prospect of ANY JOB despite looking for 18 MONTHS?

Two observations:

1) If this is true, it is indicative that business no longer wants to locate in Connecticut; or labor and benefits in Connecticut are too costly.

2) These persons may be unwilling to accept a job, in other than their preferred field. It is NOT OK to collect for 18 months under this guise. 6-8 months maybe; but not 18 months.

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