The War on Poverty, Fifty Years Later

Fifty years after Lyndon Johnson initiated the war on poverty, America is close to the same percentage of people in poverty now as it did then. Over fifteen percent of Americans- fifty million- people are currently living in poverty.

Statistics such as these indicate that the so-called war on poverty has been a continually mismanaged disaster. That isn’t to say that there haven’t been people helped by this initiative, but all things considered, it’s been a failure.

Among other things, the war on poverty has successfully undermined the institution of the family, it has robbed millions of Americans from experiencing the nobility and dignity of work as a result government subsidization; and it has created, encouraged and nurtured a sense of dependency and a mentality of entitlement among the benefactors of social welfare programs. Rather than effectively combating poverty and reducing its numbers, the poverty industry- along with the massive bureaucracy that accompanies it- has instead expanded the underclass of poor people by making them comfortable with- or desensitized to- being poor. I believe this to be immoral.

The disastrous effects of government-supported poverty are recognizable across racial lines, but the destruction has been particularly evident in the black community. The war on poverty has effectively and perpetually subsidized the dissolution of the black family while rendering the black man as husband and father irrelevant, invisible and more specifically- disposable.  The result has been several generations of blacks being born into broken families and communities, who have experienced social, moral and economic chaos fostering inescapable dependency primarily- and many times, solely- on government to sustain their livelihoods.

In 1940’s, black illegitimacy was roughly fifteen percent and during the same period, through the 1950’s, black women were more likely to be married than their white counterparts. During this time, under ten percent of black families with children were headed by a single parent. Sadly, after- and partially as a result of the war on poverty, that number is now seventy-three percent.

Around the time Lyndon Johnson initiated his Great Society programs, the illegitimacy rates were much lower than they are now. Overall, the national rate was approximately twenty-five percent; for whites, the rate was around three percent and for blacks it was twenty-five percent. Now, America has over forty-percent of her children born to single mothers, while blacks have seventy three percent out-of-wedlock births.

What woman needs a father or husband when she, for all intents and purposes, is married to the government?

This so-called ‘war’ has used poverty as political tool to justify wealth redistribution without regard to the poor. This is a passive admission by those who engage in this kind of politicizing that the poor aren’t intrinsically valuable who are in need of help; their value resides in how effectively they can be manipulated as political pawns.

This too is immoral.

We can’t simply judge socio-economic policies merely by their intentions.  Rather, we have to judge them on the merits of their results.  If we judge the results on reducing poverty in general and in real numbers, I would say that this policy has failed.  Materially, those who are considered impoverished are much better off than they were half a century ago- from where they live, to what many drive, to the public transportation they ride to the televisions they watch to the smartphones they clutch.  But there are more people, numerically, considered poor today than in 1964 (when the numbers of poverty where actually abating) and though they’re better of materially, they’re still, statistically speaking (based on federal income numbers), in poverty.

As such, the war on poverty has been a failure both morally and economically- to the tune of trillions of dollars. The attempts to alleviate poverty (and I say alleviate rather than eliminate because poverty, for a number of reasons, will never be fully eradicated) will continue fail until we elect courageous officials who will take the necessary steps to reinstitute welfare reformation (eligibility and work requirements), which reduces dependency. Elected officials will also have to: redefine eligibility (so those seeking a free ride can be removed thereby ensuring more provisions get to those who actually need it, rather than want it); eliminate bloat and the redundancy of welfare programs, reduce bureaucracy, and transfer more responsibility to state and local governments who are closer to where the poor are.

Politicians will also need support and encourage the social institutions- beginning with the family, and the church- that are responsible for inculcating an upright character, a strong and dependable work ethic, sacrifice, quality education, and a value system that supports a mentality which embraces economic opportunity.

More specifically, those in poverty need to be equipped and empowered to be responsible participants in their own ascendant destiny rather than continuing to cultivate and embody a culture of mental and physical dependency upon those who’ve embraced the cultural values that have led toward moral and socio-economic success.

Jesus said that the poor would always be with us.  They surely will if we continue fighting poverty as we’ve been doing- and in greater numbers too.

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