NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The War on Poverty: 50 Years of Failure

September 23, 2014

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of the War on Poverty. Since President Johnson proclaimed his unconditional war on poverty, taxpayers have spent roughly $22 trillion dollars, which, adjusted for inflation, is three times the cost of all military wars since the American Revolution!

  • Last year, the government spent $943 billion providing cash, food, housing, and medical care to poor and low-income Americans.

  • More than 100 million people, or one-third of the population, receive some type of welfare at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient.

  • Yet, as of 2013, 14.5 percent of Americans were poor, the same rate of poverty as in 1967.

The definition of poor, as defined by the Census Bureau, is interesting. It counts a family poor if income falls below a certain level. Yet it ignores the effect of welfare spending, making the figures of poor very misleading.

  • For example, 80 percent of poor households have air conditioning' two-thirds have cable or satellite television; half have a personal computer; and 40 percent have high-definition televisions.

  • In fact, less than 2 percent of poor are homeless and only 10 percent live in trailer homes.

President Johnson's goal was to turn "tax-eaters" into "taxpayers" and ensure that poor Americans could become self-sufficient and productive. However, the opposite tended to happen. More people are less capable of self-support today than when the War on Poverty began. The reason for this can be found in the incentive to not work and penalties on marriage. When the War on Poverty began, 7 percent of American children were born outside of marriage. Today, the number is 41 percent.

Rather than repeating the mistakes of the past, we should return to the goal of helping poor people help themselves, not give more handouts. Yet President Obama plans to spend $13 trillion over the next decade on welfare programs that will undermine social institutions and self-sufficiency.

Source: Robert Rector, "The War on Poverty: 50 Years of Failure," Washington Times. September 19, 2014.


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