Fifty years have passed since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared his “War on Poverty,” and although significant improvements have been made, area communities still have a long way to go, local officials said last week.
Johnson announced his dedication to an “unconditional War on Poverty,” words that kick-started an economic overhaul he called the “Great Society,” in his State of the Union Address Jan. 8, 1964.
With the establishment of the Office of Economic Opportunity, numerous programs were created to help fight “the war.” Many of these programs, including Head Start, Job Corps, Volunteers in Service to America, Home Energy Assistance Program, nutrition assistance, Catholic Charities, Medicare and Medicaid, are still on the battlefront, continuing to combat poverty in communities today.
However, needs persist. John Eberhard, executive director of Delaware Opportunities, said 7,787 people in Delaware County, or 17.1 percent of the population, live in poverty. He said this percentage is higher than the New York state average, 16.1 percent.
Eberhard said 2,395 children, 26.7 percent of children in Delaware County, live at or below the poverty level. According to Eberhard, 287 households, or 475 people, receive public assistance.
Through its extensive programming, Eberhard said, Delaware Opportunities serves 11,000 people.
Eberhard said when Delaware Opportunities was created in 1965, the goal was to identify the needs of low-income people and figure out how to meet those needs. He said one of the first programs created was Head Start. According to Eberhard, there are 221 children in Delaware County’s Head Start.
Eberhard said the total number of impoverished people in Delaware County has not gone down in recent years, but there have been changes demographically.
According to Eberhard, poverty among the county’s elderly went from 30 percent in 1964 to roughly 10 percent today. However, the number of children and youth in poverty has increased dramatically, he said. Eberhard said he thinks the increase is because of the large number of single-parent households prevalent today.