The War on Poverty at 50

Source: National Review Online

Today marks the 50th anniversary of LBJ’​s announcing his “war on poverty.” What went wrong? What, if anything, went right? What would a real war on poverty look like in 2014? Some experts reflect.


We have spent $15 trillion “fighting” poverty since 1965, and we are currently spending $1 trillion a year — an amount equal to about $22,000 per poor person or $88,000 for a family of four. Yet our poverty rate today (nearly 16 percent) is higher than it was in 1965 (14 percent)! If there has been a war on poverty, poverty won.

If not to reduce poverty, what difference does all this spending make? These programs are destroying the culture of the recipient communities. They are replacing a culture of self-reliance and self-help with a culture of dependency. Amazingly, a record 91.5 million people of working age — almost one-third of the entire population — are not working and not even looking for a job. Is it not obvious that we are subsidizing and enabling a way of life? To put it bluntly, we are paying young women to have children out of wedlock. We are paying them to be unemployed. And we are paying them to remain poor.

What is more, the welfare state appeals especially to those in near-poverty, promising a wide range of non-cash benefits in exchange for only one thing: a low income.

Putting more money into the system to combat poverty would probably only increase the number of poor, not decrease it. If we want to win the War on Poverty, we need to move away from government-provided aid and toward the private sector. We could funnel aid through private organizations by allowing taxpayers to allocate a portion of taxes to qualified charities that provide assistance to the indigent, rather than sending those tax dollars to government programs, such as the food-stamp system. By moving away from the public sector, which only reinforces the behaviors that make the need for aid permanent, we could wage an actual war on poverty.

— John C. Goodman is president of the National Center for Policy Analysis.