The Consequences of the "Great Society"

July 10, 2014

In the 50 years since the onset of the "Great Society," the United States has spent nearly $22 trillion and implemented 80 welfare programs with the goal of reducing poverty. How has it worked? Not well, writes Edwin Feulner, founder of the Heritage Foundation.

Material poverty has fallen over the last half-century, says Feulner. Today, the average poor household has food on the table, not to mention air-conditioning, cable television and Internet access. However, he explains that the War on Poverty also created negative incentives:

  • Welfare gave single mothers larger payments than married mothers, encouraging women not to marry the fathers of their children.
  • Children who grew up without both parents in their households began to see single-parenthood as normal.

It was not until 1996 that Congress sought to fix these incentives and encourage work, not government dependency. That year, it passed welfare reform, replacing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF required recipients to work at least 20 hours per week (or engage in job preparation activities) in order to receive benefits. The reform cut welfare caseloads in half, single mother employment increased significantly and child poverty dropped dramatically.

The United States will spend almost $14 trillion on welfare over the next decade, notes Feulner, and further reform of our means-tested programs is in order. Today's government programs, he contends, provide a number of services but do not encourage self-sufficiency.

Source: Edwin J. Feulner, "Assessing the 'Great Society'," Washington Times, June 23, 2014.

 

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