The Washington Dilemma: Finding Jobs That Will Last Washington, D.C. Every day on my way to work I walk past the Office of Economic Opportunity’s modernistic glass and steel eight-story building in downtown Washington. It serves as my own personal reminder that the Johnson Administration’s “war on poverty” is here to stay. Eighteen months ago there was no OEO and there was no “war on poverty.” Today the antipoverty campaign receives more press coverage than any other single domestic news story and is well on its way to becoming an American institution. Several things stand out about the early days of the program: This is the first time the country’s attention has been firmly focused on its hard-core poor and the social problems generated by a largely urban society. The “war on poverty” has started to reach the poor; however, its total accomplishments are not yet impressive and there have been numerous problems. Although the “war on poverty” is not a political boondoggle, some politics is inherent in the program as presently constituted and there is not a thing Sargent Shriver can do about it. Comprehending the nature of poverty in the United States in the 1960’s is difficult for middle-class America. The 35 million Americans living in poverty in 1964 about one-fifth of the total population might as well have been on another planet. As a boy growing up on the south side of Fort Worth, I never came in contact with real poverty. Even on trips to visit relatives in East Texas, I never saw poverty. But the “war on poverty” if it has done nothing else has changed this. People are now beginning to see poverty in their own communities and to understand it a little better. Shriver, director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, recently told the House education and labor committee that the two major accomplishments of the “war on poverty” so far have been “to alert the conscience of the country to the poverty problem” and to mobilize private citizens, private organizations, and public agencies to help combat poverty. He noted that 250,000 volunteers had worked in Head Start last summer, 10,000 women of all religious denominations have formed their own voluntary antipoverty organizations \(Wopersons have applied for VISTA. HOWEVER, the value of the “war on poverty” must be measured in concrete results, not just in increased awareness. It can not be questioned that the “war on poverty” has done some good already Martin Frost date is a shifting of the whole concept of welfare from the hand-out to a chance for the poor to help pull themselves out of poverty. In specific terms, programs such as Head Start and Adult Basic Education have helped raise the educational level of the poor; the Neighborhood Youth Corps has put money into the hands of thousands of teenagers and helped many of them stay in school; , the Job Corps has provided some basic skills and education for previously unemployed youths. But this is just the beginning, and expenditures of many billions of dollars will be required over a sustained period of years before any real victory is secured over poverty in this country. The “war on poverty” has been beset The poor stayed home. The mayors prevail. with numerous problems from the beginning, none of which were fatal, but many of which have caused bad publicity. Some local Community Action programs, such as the one in Harlem, became entangled in administrative details, with dayto-day business affairs “confused if not sometimes chaotic,” according to Shriver. In other areas, local bickering or problems of communication with OEO have delayed the start of programs. The success of the Job Corps has been uneven. Some camps have run smoothly; others such as Camp Breckenridge in Kentucky are operating way under capacity. Some communities have protested the location of Jobs Corps camps nearby out of fear of rough urban youths who would be brought into the areas. OEO badly oversold the Job Corps and now has more than 300,000 applications on file with only about 20,000 youths actually in the program in 95 centers. OEO told Congress last year that 64,000 youths would be enrolled in 163 centers by June 30, 1966. The Neighborhood Youth Corps got off to a shaky start last summer because local politicians in a number of areas put their relatives into the program. This now has been corrected, and Shriver said recently that fewer than 50 ineligible youths have been discovered in the program since last summer. Probably the biggest disappointment of the “war on poverty” has been the failure of local elections to select representatives of the poor to serve on community action boards. OEO spent $61,000 on such an election in Los Angeles and less than one perticipated. Similar failures were recorded in Kansas City, Cleveland, and Chester, Pa. Shriver told congressional committee early in March that “We are prepared to consider looking into the possibility of discontinuing these elections, at least at the expense of the federal government.” IN ADDITION to these admin . istrative woes, Shriver has had politics to contend with, not so much the type of politics which involve putting relatives on the payroll \(with the early exception of the politics of control. The mayors of large cities, mostly Democrats, have feared organization of the poor which would turn them into a political counter-force. To prevent this they have sought to control local community action programs. A high-ranking poverty official told me recently, “There are political problems in local situations that you have. to live with.” What this has meant is that OEO has not tried to enforce strictly the letter of federal law which requires “maximum feasible participation” of the representatives of the areas served in developing community action programs. OEO, has, rather, done some fancy footwork so that it can maintain that “maximum feasible participation” is still in force. Now, instead of insisting that at the minimum membership on community action boards be one-third poor people, OEO is stressing membership by representatives from the poor areas, but who may not actually be poor themselves \(such as minfor the poor in anti-poverty projects such as Head Start. Also, it has been reported, but not confirmed by OEO, that the required “poor” percentage on community action boards has been decreased from 33 to 25%. The Johnson Administration could have intervened on Shriver’s behalf and told local politicians that “maximum feasible participation” meant just that, but it apparently decided not to risk angering the Mayor Daleys who regularly deliver the vote for the Democratic Party. The failure of the election method of choosing representatives of the poor to sit on community action boards should strengthen the position of local politicians even further. Rising Vietnam costs limited the fiscal 1967 budget request for the “war on poverty” to the minimum needed to sustain the present rate of programming. The Administration asked for $1.75 billion in new spending authority as compared with $1.5 April 1, 1966
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