We Spent 15 Trillion Fighting A “War On Poverty” And We Didn’t Even Get A Lousy T-Shirt


Lyndon Johnson declared a “war on poverty” in the sixties and he was about as successful at it as he was in Vietnam. Of course, as the great: Thomas Sowell notes, minorities were on their way up economically long before Johnson ladled an extra heaping helping of socialism into the economy.

For example, the usually insightful quarterly magazine City Journal says in its current issue: “Beginning in the mid-sixties, the condition of most black Americans improved markedly.”

That is completely false and misleading.

The economic rise of blacks began decades earlier, before any of the legislation and policies that are credited with producing that rise. The continuation of the rise of blacks out of poverty did not – repeat, did not – accelerate during the 1960s.

The poverty rate among black families fell from 87 percent in 1940 to 47 percent in 1960, during an era of virtually no major civil rights legislation or anti-poverty programs. It dropped another 17 percentage points during the decade of the 1960s and one percentage point during the 1970s, but this continuation of the previous trend was neither unprecedented nor something to be arbitrarily attributed to the programs like the War on Poverty.

In various skilled trades, the incomes of blacks relative to whites more than doubled between 1936 and 1959 – that is, before the magic 1960s decade when supposedly all progress began. The rise of blacks in professional and other high-level occupations was greater in the five years preceding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than in the five years afterwards.

In other words, had the government done nothing at all, it seems that we’d have seen just as much progress – if not more. Of course, this hasn’t convinced anyone in D.C. to: slow down the spending on poverty programs that don’t seem to ever actually decrease the amount of poverty in the country.

The federal government runs 126 separate anti-poverty programs. That may surprise most Americans, who think of welfare as the cash benefits provided under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program – formerly Aid to Families with Dependent Children. But the U.S. welfare system is far larger than that.

There are 33 housing programs, for example, run by four different Cabinet departments, including, bizarrely, the Department of Energy. There are 21 programs providing food or food-purchasing assistance. They’re administered by three different federal departments and one independent agency. There are eight different health care programs administered by five separate agencies in HHS. Six Cabinet departments and five independent agencies oversee 27 cash or general assistance programs. Altogether, seven different Cabinet departments and six independent agencies each administer at least one anti-poverty program.

[I]nstead of trying to expand welfare, we should end those government policies – high taxes and regulatory excess – that inhibit growth and job creation.

All those programs cost taxpayers more than $668 billion last year. That’s an increase of more than $193 billion since Barack Obama became president. It’s roughly 2:½ times greater than any previous increase over a similar time frame in U.S. history and will increase means-tested welfare spending by about 2.4 percent of gross domestic product.

Moreover, if one includes state and local welfare spending, government at all levels will spend more than $952 billion this year to fight poverty.

The Obama administration obviously believes that one measures compassion by inputs. The more money we spend on welfare programs, it argues, the more people receive benefits from those programs, the better job we do fighting poverty. By those measures, we are indeed doing a better job.

Since President Lyndon B. Johnson first declared a “war on poverty” in 1964, federal, state and local governments have spent roughly $15 trillion fighting poverty.

Yes, you’re reading that right. We’ve spent,: “roughly $15 trillion fighting poverty.”: So what do we have to show for our money? Thanks to Obama’s leadership,: the poverty rate is about to go all the way back to the same level it was at in 1965.

The Associated Press reportedly surveyed more than a dozen economists, think tanks and academics, both nonpartisan and those with known liberal or conservative leanings, and found a broad consensus: The official poverty rate will rise from 15.1 percent in 2010, climbing as high as 15.7 percent. Several predicted a more modest gain, but even a 0.1 percentage point increase would put poverty at the highest level since 1965.

That 15 trillion was really well spent, wasn’t it? As a matter of fact, because of the way the poverty rate is calculated, the government may be actually miring more people below the poverty line instead of helping them lift themselves up.

The 2010 poverty level was $22,314 for a family of four, and $11,139 for an individual, based on an official government calculation that includes only cash income, before tax deductions. It excludes capital gains or accumulated wealth, such as home ownership, as well as noncash aid such as food stamps and tax credits, which were expanded substantially under President Barack Obama’s stimulus package.

An additional 9 million people in 2010 would have been counted above the poverty line if food stamps and tax credits were taken into account.

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, believes the social “safety net” has served its purpose and it is time to cut back. He notes that many government recipients live in decent-size homes, drive cars and own wide-screen TVs, and that the net may be preventing them from working.

Maybe it’s time to declare the “war on poverty” a failure and begin a new war on government spending, over-regulation, and impediments to economic growth?

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