General Question

Yetanotheruser's avatar

After 50 years, is the War on Poverty a success or failure?

Asked by Yetanotheruser (14505 points ) January 8th, 2014

In 1964, US President Lyndon Johnson declared “unconditional war on poverty in America…” and enacted or pushed through legislation a number of programs designed to minimize the effects of entrenched poverty among many Americans. Shortly after the programs started, the overall poverty rate fell 43%,from around 21% in 1963, and remained hovering between 10% and 15%, according to this chart.

The measure of success of this “war” seems to fall into partisan camps. Conservative commentaries (National Review for example) would have one believe the program was a failure, whereas progressive/liberal sources (Such as Center for American Progress are saying that the program’s lasting legacy of safety nets (SNAP [formerly known as food stamps]; Medicare; Medicaid; Head Start; and expanded Social Security) has added to the relatively low poverty rate, indicating the success of the program.

So which is it?

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39 Answers

Seek's avatar

Well, as a person living below the poverty line, I certainly feel under attack.

Symbeline's avatar

Er, hmm, don’t quite understand the methods used to reach what goals on this mission, but middle class barely exists anymore, and the division between the poor and the rich is more visible than ever, so methinks this war pretty much failed. Not sure food stamps are a sign of victory, especially not if a lot of people need to use them. That’s just putting a band aid on something, but I guess this depends on how poverty is defined.

Judi's avatar

In 1980 the war on poverty was switched to a war on the impoverished.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Well if you get rid of the impoverished then poverty would go away…

Politicians ay? Always thinking outside the box.

stanleybmanly's avatar

As Judi stated, conservative elements in the country have struggled relentlessly from the outset to torpedo the war on poverty. Arguing that poverty programs are merely redistribution schemes, the right has transformed the war on poverty to a war on the poor. Not a day goes by without loud blathering from the right on the necessity to eliminate unemployment benefits, whittle back the already inadequate food stamp allotments. Even the starvation level minimum wage is vilified in the never ending assault on the “undeserving” poor. When the issue of galloping wealth inequality is raised, we’re warned about the left’s hankering for “redistribution” schemes and advocacy for “class warfare”. The truth is that the class war has been with us from the beginning, and with wealth clearly being redistributed UPWARDS before our very eyes, there should be little doubt as to just which class is winning.

wreckinball's avatar

The war on poverty is a failure because like every gov’t program it has expanded from a safety net to a lifestyle. It provides the wrong incentives.

We pay people not to work and to be single parents. We house and feed these folks and ask nothing in return.

The safety net needs reformed. It should be one integrated benefit. It should be basic. Multiple cars flat screen TV’s and premium cable service should not be part of it. Dry and fed
should be the motto.

You should have to work for your benefits. No work no $$‘s. This reform alone would cut the welfare rolls in half.

Seek's avatar

Ah. So you’re for the creation of a socialised work program, funded by the government, in which anyone can apply for a minimum-wage job and be guaranteed food and shelter?

You communist.

wreckinball's avatar

Yes I do. I doubt many folks would want to stay in my program for any length of time however.

The pay would be food shelter. And the food and shelter would not be an EBT card and a section 8 house. Think 70’s style college dormitories and cafeteria. Dry and fed but not a place for a long stay.

YARNLADY's avatar

@wreckinball There already is a plan like that in effect. My son is unemployed, but must look for work or be enrolled in college to receive his benefits.

The job to worker ratio is currently 1 job for every 3 people looking. Even if every job was filled there would still be people out of work.

Seek's avatar

Nope. That’s a violation of federal law.

By law any worker is guaranteed minimum wage, not simply a cot and a meal.

We do not have slavery in this country. You might want to hop in your TARDIS and rewind about 200 years.

pleiades's avatar

I notice a lot more homeless living in the streets of Downtown San Diego. (Good weather, free food=win win for homeless in San Diego)

wreckinball's avatar

You are right. The minimum wage laws would have to be revised to allow my plan. But laws can be changed. And its not slavery because its voluntary. Don’t like it don’t sign up.

Seek's avatar

How, in your master plan, would one work their way out of their situation? short of becoming so miserable they commit suicide. Or maybe that’s the end-game, I don’t know.

wreckinball's avatar

Another major problem with the war on poverty is that it is federal. Much of the dispute about what is enough of a safety net should is a red vs blue thing.

Let the states decide what safety net they provide. If TX likes a basic safety net than so be it. If CA wants to pay people forever not to work and live middle class so be it. The key is each state would also get to pay for their safety net.

Seek's avatar

Which puts the people least capable of choosing where they live at the mercy of the state law.

wreckinball's avatar

Versus at the mercy of federal law? The fed gov’t was supposed, read the constitution, to be limited to prevent tyrants from DC controlling local matters.

I suggest we return to that state of affairs

Seek's avatar

I’ll repeat my previous question:

“How, in your master plan, would one work their way out of their situation? short of becoming so miserable they commit suicide. Or maybe that’s the end-game, I don’t know.”

LilCosmo's avatar

@wreckinball what about college degrees that require at least several months of free full time work? A teacher must pay to work full time for an entire semester in order to get a certification. A physical therapist has to pay to work full time for over six months. How about a full time student/single parent for that matter? Are these people entitled to any support while they are working for free and trying to become productive members of society, or will they have to work nights as well in order to survive? Here are people doing the right thing and trying to better themselves, are we going to cut them off at the knees?

janbb's avatar

Asking if the War on Poverty is a success after 50 years is assuming that there has been a consistent war on poverty for the past 50 years. There hasn’t. See what @Judi said best.

wreckinball's avatar

I’ll repeat my response. The safety net is a voluntary option. Don;t like it don’t sign up.

Seek's avatar

Then your safety net is no safety net at all.

You’re literally suggesting we tell people with real lives, real problems, and real children to raise, “Sign up for government-sponsored slavery, or starve”.

LilCosmo's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I am fairly certain your suicide theory is the end game for many conservatives. My mind is consistently blown by the utter lack of compassion.

@wreckinball be honest, are you trolling or do really care that little about humanity?

kritiper's avatar

Humanity is the failure. The war on poverty would only come to a satisfactory end if and when the US became the perfect socialist state.

1TubeGuru's avatar

Ronald Wilson Reagan set the bar for creating income inequality. he did not end the war on poverty but he sure took the wind out of its sail’s. after 50 years the war on poverty is still ongoing. http://www.salon.com/2011/02/04/reagan_war_on_poverty/

Coloma's avatar

Declaring “war” on anything never works. Not on drugs, poverty or anything else.
I also agree with @kritiper, but, never gonna happen. I’ve been on every financial fence there is now at 50 something.

Young and poor, married and solvent, divorced and poor, younger middle aged and really comfortable and now older middle age broke again after this economic shit storm wiped me out between 2010 and 2013.
Time to just dig a mass grave for all us boomers that will never retire, let alone be able to afford decent health care in our old age.

There are more elderly poor now than pre-1930’s depression era days and by 2050 the senior citizen population will be the highest ever in the course of history. The worst is yet to come for many.

rojo's avatar

We have spent trillions and yet are not any futher along at eliminating poverty so the questions that comes to my mind are “Are we asking the right question? Since it is not improving is it maybe time to look for a different solution? and is there even a game plan in place?”.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@wreckinball I’m struck by the stark resemblance of your solution to the innovative measures now fashionable in various red state government programs, notably the prison systems.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Let’s face it. It is the nature of capitalism to generate inequality. It isn’t merely coincidence that the appearance of a couple of dozen multi billionaires occurs in lockstep with falling standards of living for the rest of us, and grinding misery for those at the bottom. It is also no coincidence that the most vibrant and egalitarian society this country ever produced occurred when the top income tax rate was 94%

janbb's avatar

@stanleybmanly I’m curious as to when that was?

kritiper's avatar

@Coloma – Never say “never.” Every good democracy throughout history has only lasted about 200 years before evolving into something else.
Every.
Single.
One.
Without exception.
The US is past it’s due date for change and I can’t see any other evolutionary governmental change except to Socialism. But, Hey! We’re Americans! We can devise a socialist system that works! There’s more than one socialism and everybody who has tried has done it a different way. All we have to do is set our minds to it and make it our own!

stanleybmanly's avatar

@janbb It was in 1942 and up through all of those prosperous years after the war. In 42 Roosevelt was ready to enact an income tax rate of 100% on all income in excess of $25,000. 94% was HIS idea of how one should compromise with Republicans.

ETpro's avatar

Even before LBJ declared war on poverty, the Federal Government took one step to cut a major part of it. President Franklin Roosevelt’s Social Security Act of 1935 was enacted. Before it went into effect, the elderly had made up a major portion of the nation’s indigent. Since its enactment, most of our elderly can live out their golden years in dignity. In 1965, LBJ proposed a national healthcare initiative, and Medicare/Medicaid was born. Those two moves decreased overall poverty in America more rapidly than at any other time in our history.

But Reaganomics in the 80s changed all that. The GOP vast noise machine swung into full gear spreading the false propaganda that the war on poverty was an abject failure, and that we needed instead to transfer wealth to the rich so it could trickle down. The war on poverty became the war on the poor. It was a rape-and-pillage war, with the intent to harvest all available resources from ordinary people in order to bless the wealthy. The link I provided shows what it did to poverty. Income inequality is now at an all-time high and the middle class we took so long to build as we dug back out of the Great Depression and moved into the post-war boom is rapidly disappearing. Keep on this right-wing course, and we’ll be a banana republic in another couple of decades.

It’s time to kill the God of Cash and get back to caring about people instead of corporate profits. In due time, the God of Cash worshipers will find they were on the wrong side of history.

LostInParadise's avatar

It is a little hard to sort things out. It seems that the good news is that the safety net is still in place and the bad news is that more people than ever are falling onto it.

I am cautiously optimistic that things are going to change for the better. There is a slowly growing progressive groundswell of resentment, as seen in the brief but important Occupy Wall Street movement and the elections of Elizabeth Warren and Bill De Blasio. Bernie Sanders said that he will run for president if no other progressive steps in. The President called attention to the growing income gap.

ragingloli's avatar

The “war on poverty” is a joke. What exactly has happened instead?
The education system has been led to ruin.
Basic research is being ridiculed as a waste of money.
Nasa’s funding is a joke.
Off-shoring of manufacturing is rewarded.
Unions are being crushed.
Workers’ rights and pay are being constantly eroded.
Reps are now calling the extension of unemployment benefits a political game to distract from the Obamacare website.

You are not doing anything to combat poverty.
You are like the French complaining that they are not winning the war against Hitler.

mattbrowne's avatar

A huge success, although I resent the term war in this context. It’s a fight against poverty.

The percentage of poor US citizens has done down over the past 50 years. The same is true for the whole world population.

ibstubro's avatar

All I can really go by is my first hand knowledge of my local area.

I’m a semi-retired former blue collar worker. The home I live in was build in the late 1960’s by a top local executive of Southwestern Bell. My starter home – a older, 2 story, 3 bedroom brick – is owned and occupied by a woman dependent upon government aid. My Grandmother sold her 5 room house (where she lived with her mother and hosted all our extended family reunions) sold in about 1980 for $5,000 because it was on a double lot. It was added on to, as I cannot imagine even the most desperate Section 8 recipient living in the original structure today.

“The Cream of the Crop” (Dr. & Lawyer) houses from my childhood (70’s) are now solidly occupied by the middle class – very similar to my home. While I lived in my original brick home, the government took a public park a block away and build stand-alone $80,000 single family section-8 dwellings (I’d paid $32,000 for mine).

My family was never poor. But they were frugal. An 8 pack of Orange Crush probably lasted us 3 kids literally a year. Our clothes were hand-me-down, salvage and home made. We didn’t eat fast food, if we went to the movie it was drive-in (charge by the car) and we made use of natural resources (parks, the Mississippi) for entertainment. Breakfast was unsweetened cold cereal or oatmeal (weekend eggs and meat). Lunch and dinner were meat, starch vegetable and fruit for desert.

I’m 52 years old. Started the workforce at about $2.25 and hour, left at about $17 – pretax. Today I’m debt free, semi-retired and I’ve not inherited a dime nor had a family financial safety net since I was 21. In my local rural area the people living on government assistance are living a higher life than I did for the first 30+ years of my life.

Has the War on Poverty been a success? Yes. We’ve melded the lower and middle classes and then bemoan the loss of the middle class.

ETpro's avatar

Dana Milbank wrote a very relevant article in today’s Washington Post.

antimatter's avatar

I think it’s a failure! And the economic problems is not helping at all.

ETpro's avatar

@antimatter Statistical analysis shows that it worked incredibly well till the right-wing swept to power in the 1980 Reagan Revolution and switched it from the War on Poverty to the War on the Poor. And by the way, the Republican War on the Poor has worked swimmingly as well.

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