War on Poverty: 50 Years of Failing People

On January 8, 1964, Lyndon Johnson launched America’s “War on Poverty.” After 50 years, it’s clear poverty is winning.

After five decades and more than $20 trillion in taxpayer dollars, 15 percent of Americans still live in poverty. That’s scarcely better than the 19 percent living in poverty at the time of Johnson’s speech. Today, 22 percent of today’s children live in poverty. In 1964, it was 23 percent.

Pennsylvania has its own mess, with an increase in residents living in poverty over the past decade, despite a 60 percent increase in welfare spending over that time.

Poverty Rate PA

Bad welfare policy is robbing Pennsylvanians of a better life, a sense of accomplishment and a higher income.

A Cato Institute study authored by Michael Tanner, Welfare vs. Work Tradeoff, reveals Pennsylvanians can make more money collecting welfare than working a job. Adding up food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, WIC benefits, heating assistance and other programs, a Pennsylvania family can receive the equivalent of $14.34 an hour—almost double the $7.25 minimum wage.

True compassion is not a government income for the unemployed. Rather, we need to fight poverty smarter, not just throw more money at the problem in the name of a “war”. Pennsylvania can reduce poverty by:

  • Linking government benefits with incentives to work, because work is the only way to permanently escape poverty. In 1996, welfare to work reforms pushed the poverty rate for African American children below 39 percent for the first time since 1969.
  • Protecting services for the poor and ensure only those eligible for programs and in need of assistance receive taxpayer funds.
  • Encouraging charity care instead of today’s welfare industrial complex. True charity does not come from tax dollars coerced from Pennsylvanians, but from individuals and organizations working to help individuals in their time of need while embracing the virtues of personal responsibility and independence.

In Tanner’s words, “Our goal should not be a society where people struggle along in poverty, dependent on government for just enough to survive, but rather a society where as few people as possible live in poverty, and where every American can reach his or her full potential.”