NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 31, 2004

Many claim the 40-year War on Poverty was responsible for the economic rise of blacks, but economist Thomas Sowell says this simply isn't true.

Sowell says despite myriad programs intended to tackle poverty at its roots and to offer more opportunities to those starting out in life, the War on Poverty was far from successful. For example:

  • Black families disintegrated under a generous welfare system that subsidized unwed pregnancy and changed welfare from an emergency rescue to a way of life.
  • Government housing projects created for the poor degenerated quickly into violent slums, trapping countless families in a life of misery and despair.

The reality is that the rise of blacks began decades before any of these programs, writes Sowell. Moreover, this upward progression was not helped by liberal social policies of the 1960s:

  • The poverty rate among black families fell from 87 percent in 1940 to 47 percent in 1960, during an era of virtually no major civil rights legislation or anti-poverty programs.
  • While the poverty rate dropped another 17 percentage points during the 1960s and another point in the 1970s, this continuation of the previous trend was not unprecedented nor credibly attributable to policies of the War on Poverty.
  • In various skilled trades, the incomes of blacks relative to whites more than doubled between 1936 and 1959.

Source: Thomas Sowell (Hoover Institution), "A Painful Anniversary,", August 17 2004.


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