Focus on Poverty

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Tunica, Mississippi: A mother and her baby. Although legalized gambling brought jobs and revenue to this anguished corner of Mississippi, poverty maintains its persistent grip on the delta.

It’s been 50 years since the idealism of Robert F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson administration’s War on Poverty placed economic injustice at the heart of American political and social discourse. Since then poverty has fallen off the national agenda, and the poor in America are often invisible. Today, more than 31 million children under 18 live in low-income families and more than 15 million more live in poor families (below the federal poverty threshold) in this, the richest country in the world. According to UNICEF’s 2005 study “Child Poverty in Rich Countries,” “Protecting children from the sharpest edges of poverty during their years of growth and formation is ... the mark of a civilized society.” By this standard, the study concluded, the United States — last among the 21 nations for child health and safety — has the dishonor of being one of the least “civilized” of the major industrialized countries.