Declare War on Poverty in America!


Former President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty during the 1964 State of the Union address, just months after assuming office upon the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

There are large geographic variations in crime rates, which according to FBI data, reveals large differences from state to state and city to city.

For example, in 2016, there were more than 600 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in Alaska, Nevada, New Mexico and Tennessee. By contrast, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont had rates below 200 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, while Chicago has drawn widespread attention for its murder totals in recent years, its murder rate in 2016 (28 murders and non-negligent manslaughters per 100,000 residents) was in fact less than half the rate in St. Louis (60 per 100,000) and far below the rate of Baltimore (51 per 100,000).

The City of Detroit is currently listed as the most dangerous city in America. There is a direct correlation to elevated crime rates and the rate of poverty. The FBI notes that various factors might influence a particular area’s crime rate, including its population density as well as economic conditions for that area.


  • *  Violent crime rate: 2,047 per 100,000
    *  2016 murders: 303
    *  Poverty rate: 40.3%
    *  Unemployment rate: 10.9%

Using data from the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime, Edinburgh University researchers found that poverty is a strong driver of violent offending amongst young people. However, systems of youth and adult justice, far from tackling violence and lifting young people out of poverty, serve instead to entrench poverty, thereby reproducing the very conditions in which violence can flourish.

We must have the inclusion of several critical elements in the formulation of an efficacious plan to mitigate and eventually eliminate poverty in America. Ignoring the facts, won't mitigate the problem. It will simply mean we'll be having this same conversation again, sooner or later.

Here are just a few of the factors, aside from crime, that must be included in the conversation:

  • Regional specific income levels
  • Regional specific costs of living
  • Regional specific healthcare costs and concerns
  • Available jobs
  • Racial demographics
  • Law enforcement
  • Religious demographics
  • Community involvement
  • Corporate involvement
  • Minimum wage vs. Living wage
  • Cap on executive level salaries
  • Availability and ease of access to guns
  • Prostitution
  • Mental healthcare
  • Available and affordable housing (rental or purchase)
  • Abandoned and dilapidated housing
  • Available transportation services
  • Community specific cost of living
  • Quality school facilities
  • Immigration policy
  • Unemployment
  • Social services
  • Basic infrastructure
  • Gangs
  • Chronic homelessness

The Trump administration proposed a $1.5 trillion "investment" in America's failing infrastructure. Throwing money at the problem won't rectify the problem. As we've done in the past, you can't just build a bridge and then just walk away from it! It must have maintenance and let's face it, that maintenance requires an investment. Our investment into our infrastructure must be approached with an eye toward the future, acting pro-actively and preemptively.

When I was mayor in Oklahoma, one thing I noted and found problematic was the aged condition of our bridges and roadways, many of which were gravel.

One road, which happened to be the one that went right past the then mayor's home, was washed out more than once, but one time it was so badly damaged that the entire right side of the road collapsed falling down a cliff.

Before I became mayor, as a member of the City Council, I challenged our then mayor about the condition of some of those roads and bridges including the one in front of his house. His response was typical... "the bridge is fine..." the roads are fine, although every significant rain storm resulted in significant damage. As you know, the State of Oklahoma has quite the dubious history with storms.

After one particularly heavy thunderstorm, the bridge that he labeled "fine" was literally overrun with water that was so deep, you could not drive down the road to get to the bridge as you can see in the picture to the right.

This mayor refused to even consider any investment into the rusty bridge, located in a floodplain, that happened to be on one of the main highways in and out of the city.

I dare say, in Nichols Hills, an affluent community an hour to the west of my city, the streets are pristine... no potholes, no floods, no missing street signs, well-lit streets and certainly no gravel roadways! The difference? Demographics!!!

President Johnson initiated what many (including myself) would later consider to be a failed war against poverty. The impetus for the initiative was a very high rate of poverty, at the time, of 19%. Think about what those numbers implied.

In 1964 in what is arguably the wealthiest and most powerful nation on the planet, 19 out of 100 American citizens lived in poverty.

Sadly, 53 years later, the rate of poverty in America has decreased only to about 14%, an approximately 5% reduction! So, these numbers would tell me that President Johnson's initiative did not work, and the numbers are equally as distressing!

Fast forward to a new century, to new ideals, to new principles, to what in 1964 would have been considered unimaginable technologies. Has this modern American really changed? Not so much! Comparatively, things may have in fact gotten worse.

The efficacy of any initiative developed to mitigate and obliterate poverty must first acknowledge the fullness of the problem. No battle plan will accomplish its goal unless it first acknowledges the capabilities of the enemy that you're seeking to defeat.

Tactics implement strategy by short-term decisions on the movement of troops and employment of weapons on the field of battle. The great military theorist Carl von Clausewitz put it another way: "Tactics is the art of using troops in battle; strategy is the art of using battles to win the war."

We're fighting a different kind of war.

The minimum wage when I came out of high school, circa 1969, was only $1.60 per hour. You could buy a gallon of gasoline for 19 cents. A pack of cigarettes was 25 cents. A loaf of bread was 19 cents. A first-class stamp was 8 cents.

I bought my first car... brand new... for less than $4,000. Today, a 2017 Volkswagen Beetle has a base price about $20,000

So, we've seen huge increases in most every category except the minimum wage, $7.25 per hour. Here's the part that makes no sense... what you could buy in 1964 for $1, today will cost you $8! The dollar is worth more today but buys much less?

In 1974 I bought my first home at the age of 19 in Denver. I paid $14,800 for my small two-bedroom home. Today, if you were to buy the same 695 square foot home, it would cost you $292,599! The current occupants purchased the home in July of 1994 for $36,500. The increasing cost of living is creating a fiscal paradox.

As you see, the problem is complex but the very worst thing any leader can do is to try to affix a Band-Aid to the problem.

To be frank, I would not even attempt to tackle this problem unless I had full confidence that together, could find and implement a solution. Fifty years down the road, historians will not be telling our grandchildren and great grandchildren about our failure. They'll be touting our successes. Why? Because we're doing it for the right reasons. We're working on behalf of the people of the United States of America.

I need you to do us a huge favor. I want you to send me a letter, yes and old fashioned, snail mail, letter. In the letter, I want you to share your ideas about how we can overcome this problem. So, ask yourself... what exactly is the problem as you see it? You can answer that better than I can... at least for yourself and those around you.

Send your letter directly to me at:

  PO BOX 267, LINWOOD, NC 27299

Let's make it happen. I am committed to becoming a part of the solution. I refuse to any longer be a part of the problem. Join me and let's make it happen!

I'll be sharing some thoughts about the Trump proposal to eliminate food stamps and replace them with food boxes for the poor.

Until then... blessings to you and yours.

 NOTE: Some of the information in this article was provided by Pew Research Center.