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"War on poverty" a 50-year taxpayer nightmare

LBJ is the poster child of wasteful government
LBJ is the poster child of wasteful government
Photo by Pool/Getty Images

Whenever Democrats talk about their party’s accomplishments, President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 declaration of “War on Poverty” is their pride and joy. Johnson declared, "We have declared unconditional war on poverty. Our objective is total victory. I believe that 30 years from now Americans will look back on these 1960s as the time of the great American breakthrough toward the victory of prosperity over poverty."

Although Democrats like to envision themselves as the “compassionate party,” a look at the raw statistics of this multi-trillion dollar tax-payer funded declaration is startling in its ineffectiveness. It only fortifies the argument that big government does not mean big success.

The reality is the percentage of Americans ages 18 to 64 who live below the poverty line has risen by 30.5 percent since 1966, two years after President Lyndon Johnson declared the "War on Poverty," according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data.

An eye-opening report by the House Budget Committee, "The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later," states: "Today, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, we are once again debating the best way to help the least among us. On this important anniversary, we should take stock of the federal government's anti-poverty programs, and figure out why we have yet to achieve the 'total victory' Johnson predicted."

Almost 14 percent of those ages 18 to 64, 26,497,000 people, lived below the poverty line in 2012. In comparison, 10.5 percent of the identical age group, 11,007,000 people out of 105,241,000, lived below the poverty line in 1966, according to the census survey.

That is a 30.5 percent in 30 years. Can that be called success? It would have been cheaper to buy each individual under the poverty line a house in 1964.
It was noted in the Budget Committee report that "during his administration, Lyndon Johnson expanded the size and scope of assistance programs to an unprecedented degree. The Great Society created or made permanent a number of programs that remain with us today." That includes Medicaid, food stamps, Head Start, Job Corps, Volunteers in Service to America, and child-nutrition programs.

Unfortunately, as will happen with massive bureaucracies, the federal government's anti-poverty programs are "duplicative and complex," the committee observed. There are approximately 92 federal programs designed to help below-the-poverty-line Americans. There are dozens of education and job-training programs, 17 different food-aid programs, and over 20 housing programs.

Doesn’t this negate the argument for more uneducated and destitute immigrants, illegal or legal, from coming into this country until we can help those already here? Or are those people becoming the long term base of the Democratic Party?

The federal government spent almost $800 billion on various poverty programs in 2012 alone. That breaks down as $300 billion on healthcare, $200 billion on cash aid, $100 billion on food aid, $90 billion on education and job training, and $50 billion on housing.

The results are astonishing. In the last five decades, the overall poverty rate has gone down only a few percentage points, from 17.3 percent in 1965 to 15 percent in 2012. Does this not say money is not what solves everything? Proper management by the private sector could not have done worse if it tried.

The conclusion by the committee says volumes. "Congress has taken a haphazard approach to this problem. It has expanded programs and created new ones with little regard to how these changes fit into the larger effort. Rather than provide a road map out of poverty, Washington has created a complex web of programs that are often difficult to navigate."

Should we still consider the “compassionate” lawmakers of this sort of thinking “progressive?”

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