The War on Poverty's Biggest Casualties
By Matthew Vadum
Fifty years after liberals launched their sacrosanct “War on Poverty,” Americans, and black Americans in particular, aren’t better off.
But neo-Marxist ideologue that he is, President Obama is determined to double-down on leftist failure, widening the so-called war by calling for the biggest welfare spending increases in American history— amounting to more than $10 trillion over a decade, according to the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector.
This War on Poverty that Obama wants to escalate came on the heels of the death of President John F. Kennedy.
As the country was reeling in shock just seven weeks after Kennedy was assassinated, his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, urged Congress to embark on a new metaphorical war effort against poverty. In that State of the Union address on Jan. 8, 1964, Johnson said, “Let this session of Congress be known … as the session which declared all-out war on human poverty and unemployment in these United States.”
This “unconditional war on poverty in America … will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won,” Johnson said. ”The richest nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.”
The War on Poverty also gave taxpayers’ money to so-called community groups like ACORN and Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation in order to encourage them to agitate against the status quo. This, in turn, stimulated demand for more government spending as taxpayer dollars became a kind of ever-increasing subsidy for pro-Big Government activism. The federal government still hands out huge grants to left-wing groups to subsidize their efforts to take away our economic freedoms.
A half a century later, federal and state welfare spending, adjusted for inflation, is now 16 times greater. The country has spent $20.7 trillion in 2011 dollars over the past 50 years on welfare programs, far exceeding what the U.S. has spent on every war it has fought.
Already the federal government administers 80 different means-tested welfare programs. Government blew $916 billion on these programs in 2012 alone, and about 100 million Americans accepted aid from at least one of the programs, costing $9,000 per recipient on average, a figure, Heritage’s Rector notes, that doesn’t include Social Security or Medicare benefits.
Yet “victory” in the War on Poverty is nowhere in sight. In 2012, 15 percent of Americans lived below the poverty line, roughly the same percentage as in the mid-1960s. Currently, around 50 million Americans live below the poverty line, which the government defines as a four-member family earning $23,550 a year. And 47 million Americans receive food stamp benefits, 13 million more than when President Obama was first sworn in.
“Liberals argue that we aren’t spending enough money on poverty-fighting programs, but that’s not the problem,” according to Rector. “In reality, we’re losing the war on poverty because we have forgotten the original goal, as LBJ stated it half a century ago: ‘to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities.’”
Despite an orgy of federal spending, blacks and other minorities have suffered the most from big government poverty alleviation efforts. The anti-marriage, anti-family tilt of welfare policies has devastated black communities.
“The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn’t do, what Jim Crow couldn’t do, what the harshest racism couldn’t do, and that is to destroy the black family,” says economics professor Walter E. Williams of George Mason University, a black man who rose from poverty.
As a result of misguided government policies that grew out of the War on Poverty, out-of-wedlock birthrates have mushroomed, David Horowitz and John Perazzo report in “Government vs. the People.”
By 1976, the illegitimacy rate for whites jumped to 10 percent from 3 percent in 1965. Blacks fared far worse, as their illegitimacy rate skyrocketed to 50.3 percent, more than double the percentage in 1965. “In 1987, for the first time in the history of any American racial or ethnic group, the birthrate for unmarried black women surpassed that for married black women,” they wrote.
Currently, whites have an illegitimacy rate of 29 percent, compared to a shocking 73 percent for blacks. Overall, the poverty rate for single parents with children was 35.6 percent in 2008, but for married couples with children it was a much lower 6.4 percent.
The poverty rate for single Hispanic parents with children was 37.5 percent in 2008, but for married Hispanic couples with children it was 12.8 percent. The poverty rate for single black parents with children was 35.3 percent in 2008, but for married black couples with children it was 6.9 percent.
The economic situation of blacks has deteriorated sharply during Barack Obama’s presidency, in particular. Nationally, unemployment stands at 7 percent but among black Americans unemployment has essentially stood still. When Obama was inaugurated in 2009 black unemployment was 12.7 percent. Today it is 12.5 percent.
In 2008 the black poverty rate was 12 percent; now it is 16.1 percent. Median income fell by 3.6 percent in white households to $58,000 in the same time frame, but slid 10.9 percent to $33,500 for black households, according to the Census Bureau.
“The data is [sic] going to indicate sadly that when the Obama administration is over, black people will have lost ground in every single leading economic indicator category,” Tavis Smiley, a black, left-wing radio talk show host said in the fall. “On that regard, the president ought to be held responsible.”
These terrible numbers help to explain the president’s recent attempt to change the subject from the economy to “income inequality,” an abstraction that fails to register with most Americans.
They also help to explain why Obama intends to push for an increase in the federal minimum wage, currently $7.25 an hour, in his State of the Union address on Jan. 28.
Left-wingers have successfully been changing the subject, moving the discussion away from their policy failures for 50 years now.
Why should they change a winning formula now? They know they can continue to count on taxpayer funding for their adventures in leftist activism.