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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

LOSING THE WAR ON POVERTY

I recently heard a talking head on one of the political talk shows on television make the claim that despite the billions sunk into the "War on Poverty" since the mid-1960's, the national poverty level has essentially remained unchanged. This really caught me off guard as I assumed money can correct a lot of social ills, particularly poverty. Surely the talking head must have been wrong on this one. As I was to find out, he was correct.

As a preface to my analysis, the "War on Poverty" is the unofficial name for legislation introduced by President Lyndon B. Johnson as part of his "Great Society" series of social reforms patterned after FDR's "New Deal." The premise was in order to secure the welfare of the less fortunate, government needs to grow to accommodate those affected. Elimination of poverty was a key objective of LBJ's and one of the cornerstones of his "Great Society" legislation.

In 1964, an appropriation of $1 billion was granted to start the War on Poverty, followed by another $2 billion over the next two years. By 1980, the country was spending $100 billion on welfare, and by 2009 $400 billion was being spent, and it is projected to rocket past this figure over the next few years. I was able to substantiate this using usgovernmentspending.com, a reliable site with access to government spending data for the last 100 years. See "Government Spending on Welfare" (1960-present).


Finding the number of citizens below the poverty line was a little trickier. Fortunately, I found it at the U.S. Census Bureau's web site in a chart labeled "Number in Poverty and Poverty Rate: 1959 to 2009." Here, I discovered the national poverty rate has fluctuated between 11% to $15 over the last 46 years (since 1965) and is currently at 14.3%. Whereas there were 35 million people below the poverty line in 1965, today there is close to 45 million people.


In other words, the talking head was correct; whereas the amount of money we have spent on welfare since 1965 has grown in leaps and bounds, the poverty level has remained relatively static. In fact, there are now more people under the poverty line than when LBJ started his war in 1964. This, of course, is a startling revelation as it means, MONEY ALONE CANNOT SOLVE SOCIAL PROBLEMS. In fact, the statistics would indicate it is immaterial. The only people truly benefiting from these programs are government bureaucrats implementing them. It also means we have found a budget area that can and should be trimmed, but this will be fiercely fought by welfare recipients and their Congressional leaders claiming the reduction of welfare is nothing less than "class warfare."

This phenomenon makes you wonder why some people remain below the poverty level. Is it perhaps the social programs are run incompetently? Do those qualified to receive welfare prefer to remain off of the radar? Are they too proud to accept help? Perhaps they are too destitute or complacent to seek assistance. Whatever the reason, the fact remains the "War on Poverty" is a dismal failure and this is one war we should definitely rethink and possibly call our troops home.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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