The War On Poverty — The One We Flat Out Lost

One of the few advantages to reaching the Biblical three score and ten, or more, is perspective.  Those of us who are old enough to have reached adulthood before Lyndon Johnson became President (in November, 1963) can draw a clear line between the America that existed before the pursuit of the Great Society began in earnest, as opposed to that which has evolved since.  (Spoiler alert: before was better.)

The Democrats controlled both houses of Congress for the entire period from 1955 through the beginning of the Reagan Revolution in 1981.  Among the many domestic wealth-transfer mechanisms set up by the whole body of Great Society legislation passed by Johnson and the Democrats was the “War on Poverty” (WoP).  Some of the discrete legislative acts resulting from the overall “War” were the expansion of Social Security (1965), Food Stamps (1964, now known as SNAP), the Elementary & Secondary Education Act (1965), and the Economic Opportunity Act (1964) which was the rubric from which the Community Action Program, Job Corps, and VISTA eventually sprang.

But the fifteen trillion dollars spent on the WoP in the decades since President Johnson declared the war in his 1964 SOTU address have seemingly gone for naught, as the US poverty rate, adjusted for inflation, is largely unchanged in the last fifty years.  Think about that.  In essence, almost one entire year’s worth of GDP, in today’s dollars, pissed away with no substantive improvement.

How can this be?  How can such an enormous amount of money be spent with nothing more to show for it than an occasional twitch of the needle?

John Goodman (the economist, not the actor) takes a stab at addressing this puzzlement in commentary published at the website for The Independent Institute, a public policy think tank.  Two snippets:

From the end of World War II until 1964 the poverty rate in this country was cut in half.  Further, 94% of the change in the poverty rate over this period can be explained by changes in per capita income alone.  Economic growth is clearly the most effective antipoverty weapon ever devised by man.


In 1965, 18% of the population lived in poverty.  Today we are at 15%, or 50 million Americans.

It is past time that we elected a Congress that will recognize that something radically different needs to be done to bring this catastrophe to a merciful end.  Anyway, to read the entire article, complete with graph, click HERE.