50 Years Later, War on Poverty Has Little to Show

When President Johnson declared a “War on Poverty” 50 years ago today, he wasn’t just aiming for marginal improvements, he thought he could wipe out poverty and prevent future poverty.

By that measure, the War on Poverty has been a tremendous failure.

Some $20 trillion later, the poverty rate has barely edged downward over the course of a half century. It was about 17 percent in the mid-1960s, and it’s been 15 percent for the past three years.

MSNBC and other left-leaning media outlets, of course, deem that a tremendous success. MSNBC noted that the poverty rate has gone up “slightly” in the past decade, neglecting to note that it was 12.5 percent in 2007, before the Great Recession that supposedly ended several years ago.

Under President Obama, food stamps and other welfare programs have soared, or as the Washington Post put it, “lifted people out of poverty.”

This comes under the same theory that says unemployment payments “create jobs.” The SNAP food stamp program “lifted” 4 million people out of poverty in 2012, when SNAP is counted as income, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In normalspeak that means those 4 million people actually live below the poverty line, but they get a taxpayer-funded break on groceries.

SNAP and other forms of welfare have never lifted anyone out of poverty. In fact, such programs have a tendency to keep people poor, as there is a point of diminishing returns where poor families face losing more in government benefits than they can easily recover if they work harder and earn more of their own money.

Between SNAP, free school lunches, cash aid, phone service and numerous other programs that poor people may sign up for to try to stretch their dollars, earning more from a job can become a losing proposition.

Federal welfare rules are such that young women with children have financial incentive to have more children and stay unwed, eliminating the institution of marriage that historically is one of the surest ways for women and children to ensure that they are financially secure.

Liberals spin information about welfare and poverty to make government into the big savior of mankind. The Washington Post came right out and said, “Government action is literally the only reason we have less poverty in 2012 than we did in 1967.”

Any decrease is marginal and comes despite government intervention, not because of it. Often “improvement” just has to do with who is spinning the numbers.

Try imagining, though, what could have happened if the government stayed out of businesses’ and individuals’ pockets, and that $20 trillion blown on government programs had instead been freed up for use by an open market.

Most of the people who receive government help don’t need a handout, they need a job or an opportunity to start a business of their own. Government could also help the poverty situation immensely if it stopped encouraging corporations to move our industries to foreign countries.

Fifty years after the start of the War on Poverty, the only real question is when government is actually going to do something to help and get out of Americans’ way.