NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The War on Poverty Has Cost $22 Trillion

January 23, 2015

Since the War on Poverty began under President Lyndon Johnson, welfare spending has exploded to sixteen times its original size. In a new report from the Heritage Foundation, Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield tackle the welfare system, explaining how spending has skyrocketed since the 1960s.

  • America has spent more on welfare than defense since 1993.
  • The War on Poverty has cost $22 trillion -- three times more than what the government has spent on all wars in American history.
  • Federal and state governments spend $1 trillion in taxpayer dollars on America's 80 means-tested welfare programs annually.
  • One-third of all Americans receive benefits from at least one welfare program.

What has the United States gotten in return for all of this spending? It hasn't led to a drop in the poverty rate, which remains close to the same level it was when the War on Poverty began. However, Rector and Sheffield point out that it's misleading to think that Americans are not better off today -- the poverty rate is measured based on income that does not include welfare transfers. They offer this example:  a household receiving $50,000 in welfare benefits would still be classified as poor if its pre-welfare income fell below the poverty line.

So, how are poor households today doing? Rector and Sheffield offer a few statistics: eighty percent of America's poor households have air conditioning, two-thirds have cable or satellite television, half have a personal computer and 43 percent have access to the internet.

Source: "Opportunity for All, Favoritism to None," Heritage Foundation, 2015.   


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