It was recently the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of a war on poverty, and I’ve heard a lot of talk about it’s success or failure. Most liberals argue that the war on poverty worked, but in doing so, they do themselves an injustice. The question of whether it has has been a success or failure, assumes that the war is ongoing and that we should be able to look around and see some sort of outcome (good or bad) of governments efforts to eliminate poverty. The truth is; the war on poverty ended a long time ago. We now have small skirmishes with poverty after conservatives sabotaged the war in 1980.
I’ve heard conservatives saying, “the war has failed, the war was lost.” Conservatives basic idea is, “see the government can’t solve poverty. Nothing is better than before the war on poverty was declared. In fact the war on poverty was destructive, it led to the breakdown of families, and dependence on social programs. Our conservative policies are better.” These areas include 1). Encourage marriage 2). Change federal funding to block grant funding to states, and 3).” Cheer for America, because you can do it… just work harder and pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
As usual Republicans are wrong! They can say that the war on poverty was lost, but they’re the ones who waived the white flag in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan. Liberals are continually asked to defend the progress of a war that ended decades ago. Liberals are still able to show that their gutted anti-poverty programs help. But had the war on poverty continued, maybe poverty rates would be as low as unemployment rates.
In 1968 the supplemental poverty rate was 24% and the official poverty rate was 12.8%, but after benefits like food stamps, energy assistance, and health insurance were offered to the poor, the resulting adjusted poverty rate in 1968 dropped to 9.9%. As the war on poverty continued things were getting better. In 1979 the official poverty rate dropped to 11.6%, but after food stamps and other programs the adjusted poverty rate dropped to 6.1% The adjusted official poverty rate has never seen this low point again. As of 2012, the supplemental poverty rate was back up to 16%. But anti-poverty programs continue to work. Without them the poverty rate would be close to 30%.
Reagan was an actor, who was able to hide his elitist agenda behind charisma and strong patriotic talk, but his actions and ideology were shameful. Reagan’s 1982 and 1983 budget reform plans included cuts to anti- poverty and educational programs averaging 20%. Medicaid was cut by 10.4%, Welfare was cut 17.5%, Social Services Block Grant was cut by 17.9%, Food stamps cut by 19.1%, Energy Assistance cut by 25.8%, Education Aid cut by 17.9%, Training and Employment programs cut by 46.2%, and student loans were cut by 23%. For perspective most programs received a cut of no more than 5% during the sequestration.
During the 1990’s the booming economy helped reduce poverty countering the actions of government as it tore away anti-poverty programs through welfare reform. The 1994 Welfare Reforms came as; the war on poverty, long over, had turned into a war on the poor.
But the bastions of the now skirmish on poverty remain: Food Stamps, WIC, Head Start, TRIO Educational Opportunity Programs, Legal Aid, TANF, School Breakfast and Lunch Programs, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Energy Assistance, Housing Assistance Etc. The programs have been gutted multiple times, and eligibility is severely limited, millions who need programs can’t access them. With everything stacked against them liberals can still say that the Government is keeping some out of poverty. But the governments hands have been tied by conservative obstruction in terms of reducing poverty that would make our country less embarrassing on the international stage.
The United States of America currently boasts the second highest child poverty rate among developed nations in the world at 23.1%.
Liberals can still stand tall for fighting not just to end poverty, but to find away around elitist conservatives who work at every turn to prevent them from reducing poverty!