War on Poverty After 50 Years: Conditions of the Poor in America

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In his January 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed, “This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.” In the 50 years since that time, U.S. taxpayers have spent over $22 trillion on anti-poverty programs. Adjusted for inflation, this spending (which does not include Social Security or Medicare) is three times the cost of all U.S. military wars since the American Revolution. Yet progress against poverty, as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau, has been minimal, and in terms of President Johnson’s main goal of reducing the “causes” rather than the mere “consequences” of poverty, the War on Poverty has failed completely. In fact, a significant portion of the population is now less capable of self-sufficiency than it was when the War on Poverty began.

This week, the U.S. Census Bureau is scheduled to release its annual poverty report. The report will be notable because this year marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. In his January 1964 State of the Union address, Johnson proclaimed, “This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.”[1]

Since that time, U.S. taxpayers have spent over $22 trillion on anti-poverty programs (in constant 2012 dollars). Adjusted for inflation, this spending (which does not include Social Security or Medicare) is three times the cost of all military wars in U.S. history since the American Revolution. Despite this mountain of spending, progress against poverty, at least as measured by the government, has been minimal.

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The Welfare–Poverty Paradox

This week, the Census Bureau will most likely report that the poverty rate last year was about 14 percent, essentially the same rate as in 1967, three years after the War on Poverty was announced. As Chart 1 shows, according to the Census, there has been no net progress in reducing poverty since the mid to late 1960s. Since that time, the poverty rate has undulated slowly, falling by two to three percentage points during good economic times and rising by a similar amount when the economy slows. Overall, the trajectory of official poverty for the past 45 years has been flat or slightly upward.

The static nature of poverty is especially surprising because (as Chart 1 also shows) poverty fell dramatically during the period before the War on Poverty began. In 1950, the poverty rate was 32.2 percent. By 1965 (the first year during which any War on Poverty programs began to operate), the rate had been cut nearly in half to 17.3 percent.[2]

The unchanging poverty rate for the past 45 years is perplexing because anti-poverty or welfare spending during that period has simply exploded. As Chart 2 shows, means-tested welfare spending has soared since the start of the War on Poverty. In fiscal year 2013, the federal government ran over 80 means-tested welfare programs that provided cash, food, housing, medical care, and targeted social services to poor and low-income Americans.

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Overall, 100 million individuals—nearly one in three Americans—received benefits from at least one of these programs. Federal and state governments spent $943 billion in 2013 on these programs at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient. (Again, Social Security and Medicare are not included in the totals.)

Today, government spends 16 times more, adjusting for inflation, on means-tested welfare or anti-poverty programs than it did when the War on Poverty started. But as welfare spending soared, the decline in poverty came to a grinding halt. As Chart 2 shows, the more the government spent, the less progress against poverty was made. Read the rest of this entry »


[PHOTO] This Day in History: Launch of President Johnson’s Titanic “Great Society”

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In 1964, 76 percent of Americans trusted government to do the right thing “just about always or most of the time”; today, 19 percent do. The former number is one reason Johnson did so much; the latter is one consequence of his doing so.”

— George F. Will

 

Source: The Washington Post The slow decline of America since LBJ launched the Great Society” 

 


The Fifty-Year War

NRO has a feature on the ‘War on Poverty‘, reviewing a taxpayer-funded big-budget blockbuster that took 50 years to make, only cost 15 trillion dollars, and is still in production…

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s proclamation of a “war on poverty,” and the progress in this theater has not been encouraging. Trillions of dollars have been spent, and the number of Americans living in poverty is higher today than it was in 1964, while the poverty rate has held steady at just under one in five. That contrasts unpleasantly with the trend before President Johnson declared his war: The poverty rate had been dropping since the end of World War II. That progress came to a halt as President Johnson’s expensive and expansive vision began to be implemented in earnest, which coincided with the tapering of the postwar boom. By the 1970s, the poverty rate was headed upward. It declined a bit during the Reagan years, crested and receded again in the 1990s, and resumed its melancholy ascent around the turn of the century.

To understand the failure of the war on poverty requires understanding its structure, which itself is bound up in the idiosyncrasies of Lyndon Johnson’s politics. President Johnson played many parts in his political career: Southern ballast to John Kennedy’s buoyant Yankee idealism; an enemy of civil-rights reform and anti-lynching laws who reversed himself in 1964; a sometimes reluctant but in the end unshakeable Cold Warrior. But at heart President Johnson was a New Deal man, and his Great Society, of which the war on poverty was a critical component, was his attempt to resuscitate the spirit and the political success of Franklin Roosevelt’s program.

It was the New Deal that made Johnson’s Texas a fiercely Democratic state, as the older residents of New Deal, Texas, no doubt remember. Johnson’s House district was energetically anti-Communist, not especially segregationist, but above all wild about the New Deal. Johnson ran for the House as a New Dealer, and it was his association with FDR’s domestic agenda (and, according to biographer Robert Caro, a few thousand fraudulent ballots) that made him a senator and a force.

Read the rest of this entry »