War on poverty drags on . . .

Which has cost the U.S. more:  all the military wars since the American Revolution, or the domestic “war against poverty”?  According to a study by the Heritage Foundation, the U.S. government has spent $22 trillion fighting poverty.  When adjusted for inflation – excluding social security and Medicare – the $22 trillion expenditure is three times the cost of all military wars since the American Revolution.  And little has changed since President Johnson vowed to eliminate poverty in 1964.

In fact, in Johnson’s 1964 State of the Union, he declared, “This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.”  The Heritage study revealed that state and federal governments spend $1 trillion on 80 means-tested welfare programs.  Moreover, one-third of all Americans receive benefits from at least one government program that could be defined as welfare.

So what should a thoughtful, compassionate political leader do to solve poverty after doing a cost-benefit analysis?  Well, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently proposed legislation to spend $1.4 billion to fight poverty in the impoverished area of central Brooklyn.  If Cuomo’s plan receives legislative approval, he intends to spend the money on affordable housing, job training, anti-violence programs, recreational space, and chronic health problems like obesity and malnutrition.

One of the keys to eliminating poverty is to get impoverished individuals working.  Governor Cuomo’s plan includes job training.  But wait.  A 2016 internal evaluation by the U.S. Department of Labor found federal job training programs ineffective in raising the earnings of participants, and also out of touch with the needs of employers.

Another key factor in lessening poverty is family planning.  A 2009 Brookings Institution study found that individuals who complete high school, work full-time, and don’t have children until after marriage, have only a 2% chance of living in poverty.

So, the government can’t continue to throw money at our nation’s most persistent and challenging social problem . . . or can they?

Doing the same thing over and over, and hoping for  different results, is insanity.  But died-in-the-wool liberals continue to believe in the righteousness of the war on poverty – no matter how many years is has proven ineffective.  ‘If we just have more faith, and put more money in, we can make it work,’ they think.

Poverty in America is a problem, but we have to try another solution.  Fifty-three years, and $22 trillion later, the old way of fighting poverty has not worked.


-Mark Pope