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April 3 2013

Who Won the War on Poverty?

Charlotte Hays

Remember when President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the War on Poverty in the 1960s?

Four decades later, guess who’s winning?

Yep, as Rep. Paul Ryan said during the 2012 presidential campaign, poverty is winning.

The poverty rate in the United States is now at its highest level since the 1960s.

Census Bureau figures reveal that 50 million people in the U.S. are living below the poverty line. Of these, twenty percent are children.  

In 2011, Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield of the Heritage Foundation noted that Census poverty figures, which, by the way, were lower a scant two years ago, don’t take into consideration government benefits that most poor families receive. The summary of their report stated:

The overwhelming majority of the poor have air conditioning, cable TV, and a host of other modern amenities. They are well housed, have an adequate and reasonably steady supply of food, and have met their other basic needs, including medical care. Some poor Americans do experience significant hardships, including temporary food shortages or inadequate housing, but these individuals are a minority within the overall poverty population. Poverty remains an issue of serious social concern, but accurate information about that problem is essential in crafting wise public policy.

Still, the new poverty numbers, even if not as accurate as one might wish, are bad news.

They show that the War on Poverty--famously described as the longest war in U.S. history--has been an abysmal failure. But here is what is so interesting about the newspaper stories I've seen on the poverty numbers: they amount to special pleading for more of the same war on poverty that hasn't worked.

The U.K.s Daily Mail:

[The spike in poverty numbers] comes at a time when government spending cuts of $85 billion have kicked in after feuding Democrats and Republicans failed to agree on a better plan for addressing the national deficit.

The cuts will directly affect 50 million Americans living below the poverty income line and reduce their chances of finding work and a better life.

 Both the Daily Mail and the AP highlight the story of Antonio Hammond, one of the poor who supposedly has been helped by federal poverty spending. Catholic Charities, which receives federal funds, spent $18,000 rescuing Hammond from a life of drug-addicted poverty. He’s now clean and employed.

The AP draws a moral:

Such success stories [as Hammond’s] are in danger as $85 billion in federal government spending cuts begin squeezing services for the poor nationwide. The cuts started kicking in automatically on March 1 after feuding Democrats and Republicans failed to agree on a better plan for addressing the national deficit. They are hitting at a time of spiking poverty as the U.S. slowly climbs out of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

But the Daily Mail lets the cat out of the bag:

Catholic Charities, which runs a number of federally funded programs, spent $18,000 from privately donated funds to turn around Hammond's life through the organization's Christopher's Place program which provides housing and support services to recovering addicts and former prisoners.

Oh, so it was privately-donated funds that helped Hammond turn his life around?  

I know Catholic Charities gets federal money (I wish the Church would take a look at this mixing of charity and government and consider relying on raising its own money), but Hammond was helped by private money.

So why is he the poster boy for the success of federal spending? Hammond makes just the opposite of the point intended, if you read the stories carefully. Privately-donated money is inevitably used more judiciously than government money and, if the results are not good, it is more likely to be withdrawn. Hammond may even have been aware that he had to show results or receive less. 

Redstate drew similar conclusions in reading about the new poverty figures:

The biggest insanity of liberal politics is that they can come back every election year and say that people will languish in poverty….if we don’t continue the same policies that have grown poverty for a half-century.  It is impossible for any sane person to actually believe that throwing more money at the problem will solve poverty.  Well, maybe in the case of the media you can apply Psalms 82 – “they did not know and they do not understand [that] they will walk in darkness.”  But with regards to the elected politicians, they know exactly what they are doing.  Their objective is not to help the poor; it is to create a permanent dependency class in order to consummate a permanent Democrat governing class.  By that measure, their policies have been a resounding success.

 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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