In 1964, as the U.S. poverty rate grew to 16 percent, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a nationwide priority to address the issue of the growing poor in America. In his State of the Union address, he launched a War on Poverty, pledged to build "a nation free from want" and proclaimed that "we shall not rest until the war is won."
The nation rallied behind his call with programs such as the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, expanded Food Stamps and the Higher Education Act.
Now, 50 years later, persistent poverty again plagues our nation.
The U.S. Census Bureau, using a new calculation, estimates that today 16 percent of the nation lives in poverty -- the highest percentage of Americans in poverty since 1965. California has the highest poverty rate at 23.8 percent.
In Alameda County, there were 197,283 residents living in poverty in 2011 -- an increase of 40,000 individuals in just two years. The number of children in Oakland living in poverty grew from 18 percent to 29 percent.
Even more staggering, there are 15 neighborhoods in Alameda County with child poverty rates above 50 percent and another 42 neighborhoods where the child poverty rate exceeds 30 percent.
There are 50 neighborhoods in Alameda County with overall poverty rates -- adults and children -- that exceed 25 percent.
It is clearly time we declare a new War on Poverty and launch a campaign that examines both the legacy of the past 50 years and opportunities for moving forward into the future.
Our pledge will reflect a cross-generational commitment -- from baby boomers to millennials -- and an urgency to protect democracy through the eradication of poverty.
During the past 50 years, we have learned many valuable lessons and waged countless partisan battles. One undeniable fact remains: Far too many Americans live in poverty. The challenge to lift families out of poverty has become even more difficult with the staggering rise of income inequality during the past three decades.
The new War on Poverty in Alameda County will address critical elements that lead to economic security, including nutrition, education, employment, housing, transportation and child care. We will focus our initial efforts on jobs, early childhood education and food security.
The campaign will rely on proven strategies that combine the best elements of self-reliance, community engagement and government support.
We also will deploy the latest technology and call upon the entire community to become involved in helping individuals and families lift themselves out of poverty.
For example, the Human Impact Budget, adopted in 2012, utilizes digital media to both educate and mobilize communities around the local impact of multiyear budget cuts on our most vulnerable populations.
Our multipronged approach -- self-reliance, community engagement, government support, and technology solutions -- combines the best strategies that have been put forth by liberals, moderates and conservatives. This new War on Poverty should and must be a bipartisan effort.
There is a critical role for government in providing the resources for lifting millions of Americans out of poverty. Many of the larger programs from the War on Poverty -- Civil Rights Act, Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, Food Stamps -- helped millions move from poverty to the middle class. At the same time, we know many families did not escape persistent poverty.
No political party holds the key to eradicating poverty. We must work together.
We must put aside our differences and find common ground. Millions of families are depending upon us, and we cannot afford to wait another 50 years to deliver on the bold and noble promise made by President Johnson.
Wilma Chan is an Alameda County supervisor and is the chair of the county's Health Committee.