The "War on Poverty" 50 Years Later

Jan 8, 2014

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson gave his State of the Union address that inspired legislation unofficially known as the “War on Poverty.”

When signing the bill into law several months later, Johnson was resolute in his goals:

“We are not content to accept the endless growth of relief rolls or welfare rolls. We want to offer the forgotten fifth of our people opportunity and not doles.

“That is what this measure does for our times.

“Our American answer to poverty is not to make the poor more secure in their poverty but to reach down and to help them lift themselves out of the ruts of poverty and move with the large majority along the high road of hope and prosperity."

Sadly, the War on Poverty did not accomplish these goals. What followed was five decades of government expansion and spending on new programs that have largely been ineffective. Today, the poverty rate is only slightly below where it was in 1964, and it came with a $20 trillion price tag. What’s more, a record 47 million Americans are now receiving food stamps, which is about 13 million more than when the President Obama took office.

One of the saddest results of these last fifty years has been the decay of the American family, as the percentage of children born out of wedlock has risen from 6% to 41%. When government has policies that induce people to either not get married or to bear a child out of wedlock, poverty persists.

America has always been a nation where hard work and creativity pay off, where upward mobility was the aspired goal. Yet the War on Poverty has created new generations of Americans who look to the government itself as a parent, while hope of living the American Dream has been smothered in the process.

Let’s use the lessons of the past fifty years and start working to reassert the importance of family and the work ethic —not government programs and dependency —as a solution to lift more people out of poverty