Posts tagged with: war on poverty

Former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson declares a “war on poverty” – Jan. 8, 1964

Former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson declares a “war on poverty” – Jan. 8, 1964

Last week the U.S. Census Bureau released its report, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013. The agency announced that “in 2013, the poverty rate declined from the previous year for the first time since 2006, while there was no statistically significant change in either the number of people living in poverty or real median household income.”

Sure to spark reactions from both sides of the political aisle, the report, along with this year’s 50th anniversary of the U.S. government’s launch of a “war on poverty,” present an opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of the United States’ domestic poverty alleviation strategy to date.

But amid the necessary analysis and debate about government’s role in helping the least among us, it is essential to keep at the forefront of our thinking the primary figure poverty alleviation efforts are intended to help: the human person. Through taking the time to recognize each individual’s unique gifts and creative capacity, we can more fully appreciate his/her contribution to society and form relationships that enable this flourishing to take root.

Ismael Hernandez, founder and executive director of the Freedom and Virtue Institute, echoes the importance of recognizing people’s true nature. He says, “The person needs to be called by name, the ‘poor’ need for us to dump that label and look at them as unique and unrepeatable human beings, not simply another token belonging to an expansive and yet shallow sea of sameness.”

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Time magazine, 1964: Lyndon B. Johnson as Man of the Year

Time magazine, 1964: Lyndon B. Johnson as Man of the Year

As noted here on the Acton PowerBlog earlier this week, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of war on poverty. Economist Nicholas Eberstadt, in an interview with the American Enterprise Institute, discusses what he calls the “brave new welfare state” we now have due to over-grown public assistance and unintended consequences of government programs.

Asked if we need to spend more money on anti-poverty initiatives, Eberstadt answers:

Let me suggest this is not the right way of framing the question. Quite the contrary: if we presume that government entitlement transfers are the answer to the poverty problem, we are pretty much doomed to failure before we even start.

For a healthy national community of prosperous and independent citizens, we need a nation with strong families, solid education, a serious work ethic, and a good jobs market. Anti-poverty programs can only substitute for these fundamentals—and unfortunately such programs are necessarily rather limited and imperfect substitutes. Of course there is a role for public resources in addressing public need—but such government resources can be targeted more efficiently and intelligently than we are doing today.

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President Lyndon Johnson, Kentucky, 1964

President Lyndon Johnson, Kentucky, 1964

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Nicholas Eberstadt, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, has published a monograph entitled, The Great Society: The Triumph and The Tragedy at Fifty. Eberstadt calls Johnson’s vision for the war on poverty “the most ambitious call to date” in American political history. At the time of Johnson’s speech unveiling this “Great Society,” the United States had only one nation-wide social program, Social Security. Johnson wanted more:

The Great Society proposed to reach even further: to bring about wholesale renewal of our cities, beautification of our natural surroundings, vitalization of our educational system. All this, and much more—and the solutions to the many questions encountered in this great endeavor, we were told, would assuredly be found, since this undertaking would “assemble the best thought and the broadest knowledge from all over the world to find those answers for America.

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President Lyndon Johnson, Kentucky, 1964

President Lyndon Johnson, Kentucky, 1964

Life is harsh in Twin Branch, W. Va. Despite the wide availability of food stamps, government-subsidized health care and school lunches, life is very difficult for most of the people living there. The War on Poverty, instituted by Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago, brought a lot of help to this area of the U.S., yet life is no better now, and indeed for many, worse than before that “War.”

Trip Gabriel at The New York Times takes a look at the bleak economic landscape here. Despite all the government subsidies, this place is sad.

McDowell County is in some ways a place truly left behind, from which the educated few have fled, leaving almost no shreds of prosperity. But in a nation with more than 46 million people living below the poverty line — 15 percent of the population — it is also a sobering reminder of how much remains broken, in drearily familiar ways and utterly unexpected ones, 50 years on.

Much of McDowell County looks like a rural Detroit, with broken windows on shuttered businesses and homes crumbling from neglect. In many places, little seems to have been built or maintained in decades.

Numbers tell the tale as vividly as the scarred landscape. Forty-six percent of children in the county do not live with a biological parent, according to the school district. Their mothers and fathers are in jail, are dead or have left them to be raised by relatives, said Gordon Lambert, president of the McDowell County Commission.

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church busImages of Mississippi needing federal assistance are iconic. Robert F. Kennedy’s 1967 trip to Mississippi’s Delta region produced images of poverty not unlike LBJ’s War on Poverty tour. Jennifer Haberkorn has written a piece at Politico titled, “Obamacare enrollment rides a bus into the Mississippi Delta.” Her snooty lede to the story reads: “In the poorest state in the nation, where supper is fried, bars allow smoking, chronic disease is rampant and doctors are hard to come by, Obamacare rolls into town in a lime green bus.”

It appears the author believes Obamacare could bring the good news of salvation if only Mississippians skeptical of the federal government would let it. Haberkorn writes:

The effort in Mississippi illustrates the obstacles the health law must overcome in many parts of the country, particularly in deeply conservative areas where antipathy toward Washington mixes with challenges of geography, education and general skepticism or ignorance of the Affordable Care Act. High rates of poverty and disease — which mark much of this state — don’t necessarily aid recruitment. Add the strident opposition of GOP leaders and enrollment gets that much tougher.

Haberkorn cherry picks a couple of positive stories where heavily subsidized consumers will save money under the Obamacare program, but totally ignores a major component of all the skepticism with the plan. Obamacare premiums in Mississippi are the third highest in the nation, only surpassed by Alaska and Wyoming. As of September 2013, a mid range plan cost $448 monthly, with costs expected to rise. (more…)

SNAP chartThe House Budget Committee has issued its report on The War on Poverty, 50 Years Later. It’s 204 pages long, so feel free to dig in. However, I’ll just hit some of the highlights.

Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty has created 92 government programs, currently costing us about $800 billion. The committee’s take on this is summed up as:

But rather than provide a roadmap out of poverty, Washington has created a complex web of programs that are often difficult to navigate. Some programs provide critical aid to families in need. Others discourage families from getting ahead. And for many of these programs, we just don’t know. There’s little evidence either way.

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War on Poverty special page article banner“Why, if we have made such great strides reducing poverty,” asks Scott Winship, “is there such widespread belief that, to quote Ronald Reagan, ‘We fought a war on poverty, and poverty won’?”

We won the War on Poverty in the sense that the prevalence of material hardship has declined. According to Meyer and Sullivan, just 8 percent of Americans live at the low standard of living endured by a third of Americans in 1963. But it was a limited and costly victory. Elderly entitlements will bankrupt the country moving forward. Great Society-style no-strings-attached welfare may have had behavioral and cultural impacts that have hurt child opportunity at the bottom. Upward mobility has not expanded. The conservative turn toward welfare reform after 1980 and the limited embrace of a work-promoting safety net by New Democrats produced an important shift in anti-poverty policy, but historically conservatives have not been constructively engaged in formulating a positive opportunity agenda for children at the bottom. That this is changing is the most hopeful sign in domestic policy in some time.

Read more . . .

A recent speech by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio laid out what his press office terms “Conservative Reforms for Combating Poverty.” It began well and had a nice line or two emphasizing the role family breakdown plays in perpetuating generational poverty, but then it went all technocratic and wobbly.

So, for instance, at one point he argued that a lack of education is one reason for the decline of marriage among the poor, noting that “64% of adults with college degrees are married, while only 47% of those with a high-school education or less are.” How does he know that being married doesn’t make one more likely to pursue higher education, or that both tendencies aren’t caused by something else? (more…)

lbjIn today’s National Review Online, leading economists are asked to comment on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Acton’s Director of Research, Sam Gregg, weighs in:

As we know now, Johnson’s offensive against poverty did not have the impact envisaged by its progenitors. By the early 1970s, the failure was stark. Even today, this failure remains Exhibit A for the ineffectiveness of government intervention when confronting many economic problems. Not that this has led to any major rethinking on the part of most modern leftists when it comes to their conviction that you really cannot have enough state intervention or spend enough taxpayers’ money when you’re addressing an issue like poverty. Their approach remains unchanged: Pass more laws and throw more dollars at the problem. (more…)

Blog author: johnteevan
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
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I was reading an essay that I found in an old book I bought in Vermont. Dr H.J. Laski (Oxford and Yale) wrote, “The less obvious the differences between men in the gain of living, the greater the bond of fellowship between them.” In other words the less we talk about differences between the rich and poor, the better we will all like each other and get along. In the Depression which began as he was writing, nearly everyone was poor.

Those more cheerful days of fellowship ended with Michael Harrington’s The Other America written in 1962. Harrington described and defined the poor in America not as the lower working class (think coal miners back then) or as ghetto dwellers, but as The Poor. We declared a $7 trillion War on Poverty during 1960s, apparently with no adequate outcome as we still have 48 million people poor enough to be on food stamps.

The “bond of fellowship” has little chance today as it faces a daily reminder that the rich are very rich and that they are a sort of enemy of the poor. If the rich, the argument goes, would give up a small fraction of their immense profits or wealth then the poor would all be earning a “living wage.” That’s the energy behind the talk now of the $15/hr minimum wage.