Here’s a sampling of the commentary regarding the 50th anniversary of LJB’s “war on poverty.” First is the opening of a post at The American, then a handful of other articles that sum up the situation nicely.
Since LBJ’s War on Poverty was launched, America has witnessed an unprecedented rise in cohabitation, divorce, and out-of-wedlock births. In 2014, reforms should promote personal dignity and encourage work and responsible fatherhood.
[On January 8, 1964], Lyndon B. Johnson stood before the U.S. Congress and, in his State of the Union address, declared, “This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.”
A half-century later, how are we to evaluate the War on Poverty? What are its most decisive victories, its defeats, and its path forward?
A Sunday New York Times article paints a reasonably accurate picture, noting that the U.S. poverty rate has fallen from 19 percent to 15 percent in two generations: not a complete failure, but hardly a definitive success. Of course, not only are there multiple ways to measure poverty, but in times like these, anti-poverty programs keep American families from otherwise becoming categorized as “poor”: food stamps (4 million additional Americans would otherwise dip below poverty line), the Earned Income Tax Credit (6 million), and unemployment insurance, to name just a few.
But by far, the Great Society’s largest victory has been for the elderly: after Medicare’s creation in the 1960s, the poverty rate for older Americans has fallen from 35 percent in 1959 to just 9 percent.
On the other hand, the costs of this “war” have been enormous—both economically and culturally. Since 1964 we have spent nearly $20 trillion on means-tested wealth transfers and other federal initiatives designed to curb poverty. This sum exceeds the size of our national debt, and surpasses an entire year’s GDP.
As Florida Senator Marco Rubio asserts, given this level of massive spending, victory eludes us not only because “the poor are still with us,” but also because steady, ongoing economic assistance can lead to badly unintended consequences.
And…a series on the social safety net in general: