Fifty Years on the So-Called War on Poverty

widemodern_homeless_110513620x413Having just completed fifty years in the Lyndon B. Johnson War on Poverty, I do not see a lot of fanfare for this particular war. No country songs. No gripping 24/7 wall-to-wall patriot bombs. No graphs by CNN displaying the wonders of the Poverty Bomb on leveling economic inequality bunkers.

This may be partly because our media fixation is on the sensationalized and geared towards violence-as-entertainment. Of course Poverty is a concept while The War on Terror – though also a concept – can really be interpreted as The War on People Who Kinda Look Like They Could’ve Blown Up the Twin Towers. And for that, we have automated remote-controlled flying robots of death that could be run by a Bluth brother.

Despite all of these reasons for the un-sexiness of the War on Poverty, we must also consider that the WoP was never ever an actual war on actual poverty. There was no plan to end poverty. That would take some planning that Lyndon Johnson and the US Congress of neither fifty years ago nor now are willing to deal with. An ACTUAL War on Poverty would probably look a little too much like Karl Marx for a nation and a government deathly afraid of Red (remember that Martin Luther King, Jr. was hounded by the FBI for suspected communism).

What we have is an effectual reduction on the effects of poverty, and one that was highly successful in reducing poverty rolls by forty percent during the first six years. But then the economic conservative backlash began in the 1970’s. And then the tie-in between anti-poverty programs and anti-Black sentiment was lashed with Reagan’s “Welfare Queen” racist myth, forever burnishing welfare with negative connotations while continuing the horrible lies that black men and women are “lazy” and “entitled.” And so the minor-key War on Poverty is being slashed time and again even now, when the Republican-led House is trying to further reduce SNAP (food stamp) benefits and do-away with extended unemployment insurance (UI) benefits at a time when un- and underemployment are as much of an issue as ever before.

In terms of commemorating the anniversary, however, I did see this from Republican Congressperson James Lankford from Oklahoma:

This week is the 50 year anniversary of “The War on Poverty.” Our nation has spent trillions of dollars to fight poverty, but most programs have no evaluation to determine if they help or hurt those in poverty. I have a bill that would require basic metrics on every program so we can determine what helps and what is just waste. It is time we fight for the families and children’s future, not just send them a check and call it compassion.

What Lankford means here is not that we don’t have any means to test the cost-benefit analysis. No. Food stamps, unemployment insurance and the like actually have great benefit to the economy and to the structure of the US.

Actually, both SNAP and UI are the best modes to stimulate the US economy. Study after study have shown that expanding necessary government funds to the poor is a tremendous stimulus to the US economy. Economist Mark Zandi from Moody’s explained this to CNN:

In findings echoed by other economists and studies, he said the study shows the fastest way to infuse money into the economy is through expanding the food-stamp program. For every dollar spent on that program $1.73 is generated throughout the economy, he said.

“If someone who is literally living paycheck to paycheck gets an extra dollar, it’s very likely that they will spend that dollar immediately on whatever they need – groceries, to pay the telephone bill, to pay the electric bill,” he said.

That infused dollar has an immediate lateral and beneficial position. New products are bought, employees are hired, tax monies are spent. This in contrast to tax benefits for the wealthy wherein the monies are just… collecting dust (and occasionally “trickling down”). Is this not good enough for Lankford?

So, if the fact that money spent in welfare has a 170% Return-on-Investment isn’t good enough for Lankford and other conservatives, what actually do they want to measure? They offer more jobs than those put together by giving Jamie Dimon more entitlements. I’m thinking that his rubric is tied into the maximum amount of suffering the poor will continue to abide by until they revolt. It’s kind of a conservative fail-safe – it’s certainly how the Koch-led ideologists govern these days.

Maintaining the status quo isn’t good enough – make them suffer!

What do you think Lankford wants to measure in regards to War on Poverty programs? Personally, I think he may have typo’d and meant to say “It is time we fight for the families and children’s future.” Huzzah!


When he’s not riding both his city’s public transit system and evil mayor, Jasdye teaches at a community college and writes about the intersection of equality and faith - with an occasional focus on Chicago - at the Left Cheek blog and on the Left Cheek: the Blog Facebook page. Check out more from Jasdye in his archives as well!


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  • Jim Bean

    I agree that food stamps and UI benefit the economy and are essential and socially responsible programs. Nevertheless, they are designed and intended as bridges to help people cross over troubled waters, not as a subsidy to move them into, and keep them in, the middle class. It cannot be denied that the welfare system that rewards mothers for remaining single and delivering more babies has been catastrophic for the black community specifically and society in general. (For nothing grows the poverty class more rapidly than single-parenthood) It cannot be denied that the trillions of tax dollars collected and then disseminated in food stamps and UI have failed to prevent the middle class from deteriorating and there is no intelligent reason to think that doing the same thing some more is going to yield a different result. Welfare tools are tools for supporting the poverty class at the poverty level. Growing the middle class requires creating the opportunity for people to work their way, over a period of time, into better paying jobs and it requires discouraging people from finding long term comfort in the welfare system so they’ll start the process of building a middle class future. No one has a birthright to a middle class life. And the Pubs aren’t evil for looking at these programs with a critical and analytical eye. (I’m 64, unemployed, and the failure to extend EUI cost me three months of benefits so its not like “I just don’t understand”.)

    • Jen

      Just where do you suggest that these “better paying” jobs will come from? I agree that government assistance should be a “step up,” but if you look at it, the programs have no incentive to get off them. A single mother (or father) is looking for income that meets the family’s needs. A minimum wage job does not, so they stay on public assistance. When jobs start paying more than public assistance, you will see a mass exodus from those programs. AND – here’s another thought, what about free birth control to prevent extra kids?

    • surfjac

      Poverty wouldn’t be so damn high right now if a certain party that is obstructing our progress to rebuild our economy hadn’t F-ed up the economy in the first place.
      No, these programs are not supposed to be forever but a bridge, but to where? Talk about a bridge to nowhere with three people looking for that one job that is being offered? A lot of entry level positions out there working for minimum wage (that’s job growth in texas) but then what? Where is all the work for engineers, chemists, biologists, construction workers? We have to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure to avoid a $2.2 Trillion hit to business by the 2020’s. Maybe if the party with its head up its ass removed said head…but that will likely not happen.

      • Jim Bean

        I haven’t seen any job plans that translate to ‘growth’ coming from the Left, either. All I see is infrastructure and public servant jobs on the table – all of which require borrowing more money to meet payroll. Its not like you can sell the repaired bridge to China in exchange for cash, you know?

      • surfjac

        Right and the economy will recover more quickly.

      • Jim Bean

        Wrong. No economic growth comes from creating jobs the require tax dollars to pay salaries. Easy way to remove any doubt is to take a dollar and move it back and forth between your right and left hand as rapidly as you can for 20 minutes. When times up, count how many dollars you have. Development and sale of new technology, manufacturing of products, recovery and sale of nature resources are the only things that result in growth. All the rest are taking money from Peter to pay Paul and back again.

      • surfjac

        No economic growth comes from creating jobs? Wow, did you write that all by yourself? Right, more jobs means more money in general and more money in more people’s pockets buying goods and services of other people will never be economic growth will it? Hey, why not tune into afternoon cartoon shows or something. You bring nothing.

      • Jim Bean

        I guess you’re right. The instant you create an additional job (policeman, for example) an additional $60,000 magically appears in the bank to pay his salary each year.

      • surfjac

        Why don’t you look up the Clinton administration for answers. Oh, and don’t forget George H.W. Bush’s admin also. Both raised taxes and created jobs, Clinton more than Bush but that really happened. AND, if we create infrastructure jobs, businesses won’t lose $2.2Trillion by 2024 because of failing infrastructure. AND if we create infrastructure jobs, we’ll see more money spread out through the communities of America, keeping people employed and paying taxes…but why am I wasting my time explaining “reality” to you? You don’t understand it and are only confused by it. It’s obvious and I find this true in most cases that a person with a conservative point of view is really uninformed.

      • Jim Bean

        I understand better than you think. If you can get money out of the wealthy that ISN”T ALREADY CIRCULATING THROUGH THE ECONOMY SOMEWHERE then you can create more jobs, meet more payrolls, have more economic activity and I am behind you all the way. However, if you raise taxes on the wealthy and the end result is less money in the economy because they shifted more of it offshore, then I’m going to say its all surfjac’s fault because he should have seen that coming.

      • Infrastructure is a hell of a good thing for a country and pretty sustainable, economically-speaking. I mean, who will NOT profit from it?

      • Charles Vincent

        Public(government bureaucracy) Jobs are a money sink they create 0 economic growth that’s basic economics, I do how ever agree that infrastructure is something that promotes economic growth you can see this in the FDR years when they invested in things like the Hoover damn and under Truman I believe when they expanded the interstate highway system these are good uses for tax dollars. I do not think that government Bureaucracy should administer that past employing private companies to build said infrastructure. In essence I think that although they have infrastructure growth planned they kill any economic growth by bloating the government bureaucracy with more public sector jobs.

      • That’s not basic economics. Where did you learn this? I’d suggest Clown College but that’d be an affront to clowns.

      • Charles Vincent

        Its basic Austrian economics but way to be a tool secondly many economist agree that public sector jobs do not create wealth;
        http://www DOT politifact DOT com/truth-o-meter/article/2013/feb/15/government-jobs-vs-private-jobs-which-help-economy/

        http://www DOT cato DOT org/pubs/pas/pa048.html

      • I meant real economics, troll..

      • Charles Vincent

        You wouldn’t know real economics if it fell from the sky and knocked out all your teeth, keep up the ad Hominem it means you have no real argument.

      • surfjac

        They can’t get past the House, thanks for playing.

      • Jim Bean

        That’s WHY they don’t get past the House. The kind of jobs the Left wants to create are exclusively the kind that consume more tax dollars than they create. The House is tasked by the constitution with ensuring that the government doesn’t do fiscally stupid things.

      • surfjac

        and the kind the republican’ts want poisons drinking water (freedom), allows refineries to blow up (texas), oil spills (the Gulf) and can kill people (take your pick), what’s your point? Which is more expedient to ending the debt and deficit? Which is proven? Hmm, let’s poison, maim or kill a bunch of people so we can create jobs? OR lets’ invest in America and create jobs?

      • surfjac

        What We Learned from the Stimulus
        January 5, 2010
        The latest data on stimulus spending show that funds spent on public transportation were a more effective job creator than stimulus funds
        spent on highways. This analysis shows that in the first ten months of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), investments in public transportation created twice as many jobs per dollar as investments in highways.
        Through the end of 2009, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) investments in public transportation produced almost twice as many jobs per dollar as investments made in roads: Every billion dollars spent on public transportation produced 19,299 job-months. Every billion dollars spent on projects funded under highway infrastructure programs produced 10,493 job-months. As Congress and the Administration
        discuss a possible jobs bill, the implication is clear: shifting available funds toward public transportation will increase the resulting employment.
        gee, I wonder what the $24 Billion the right pissed away with their recent hissy fit would’ve produced?

      • Charles Vincent

        “Poverty wouldn’t be so damn high right now if a certain party that is obstructing our progress to rebuild our economy hadn’t F-ed up the economy in the first place.”

        HMM the democrats are the ones that messed up the economy by repealing the Glass-Steagall act Under the Clinton administration which is what economist credit for the market bubble in the financial and housing sector to which Barney Frank(D) was on the congressional committee as the Chair I believe.

        http://en DOT wikipedia DOT org/wiki/Glass%E2%80%93Steagall:_decline


        http://larouchepac DOT com/node/22836

      • surfjac

        Glass-Steagall was pretty dead already by the time Clinton signed off on it. Its protections had been stripped away by monied interests over the years.

        The Glass–Steagall Act, which was really a part of the 1933 Banking Act, placed restrictions on activities that commercial banks and investment
        banks (or other securities firms) could do. It effectively separated those activities, so the two types of business could not mix, in order to protect consumer’s money from speculative use. The Banking Act of 1935 clarified and otherwise amended Glass–Steagall. However, over time, private firms and their regulators found novel
        ways to weaken the barriers envisioned in the legislation. Eventually, the protections became very weak.
        Concurrently, from its start, there were many economists, businessmen, and politicians who did not find the restrictions to be productive, and wished to do away with them altogether. It took about 66 years, but the legislation was eventually completely repealed. Subsequent financial crisis have resulted in attempts to revive the legislation, and even make it stronger than originally envisioned.
        You bring “larouche” into this? Are you kidding?

      • Charles Vincent

        “Its protections had been stripped away by monied interests over the years”

        Who do you think buys senators and congressmen? And those same senators passed bailouts and legislation favoring those “monied interests over the years”

        “so the two types of business could not mix, in order to protect consumer’s money from speculative use.”
        And you think that the financial and housing sectors weren’t doing this to cause the bubble and its subsequent bust? Stop blaming one party for something that both parties engaged in over “66 years” according to you.

        “You bring “larouche” into this? Are you kidding?”
        So that makes the article less accurate?

      • surfjac


      • Charles Vincent

        Prove it to be inaccurate then. Otherwise you’re just a blow hard crying about it.

      • surfjac

        He’s not a respected journalist or pundit, simple as that. He’s known for conspiracy theories and there are any number of sources for this info without using a crackpot as a reference.

        Around the same time, according to Blum, LaRouche was telling his membership several times a year that he was being targeted for
        assassination, including by the Queen of the United Kingdom, Zionist mobsters, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Justice Department, and
        the Mossad.[55] LaRouche sued the City of New York in 1974, saying that CIA and British spies had brainwashed his associates into killing him.[56] He has repeatedly asserted that he is a target for assassination. According to the Patriot-News
        of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, LaRouche said he had been “threatened by Communists, Zionists, narcotics gangsters, the Rockefellers and
        international terrorists.”[57] LaRouche later said that, “Since late 1973, I have been repeatedly the target of serious assassination threats and my wife has been three times the target of attempted assassination… My enemies are the circles of McGeorge Bundy, Henry Kissinger, Soviet President Yuri Andropov, W. Averell Harriman,
        certain powerful bankers, and the Socialist and Nazi Internationals, as well as international drug traffickers, Colonel Gadaffi, Ayatollah Khomaini and the Malthusian lobby.”

        Lyndon LaRouche is a very special kind of American political animal, a perennial candidate for President and the ultimate wingnut/moonbat, encompassing both the extreme left and extreme right.

        You know those sketchy-looking people that you see giving out
        pamphlets and newspapers near college campuses and subway stations?
        Carrying hand-lettered posters with pictures of Bush, Cheney, or Obama with a Hitler mustache? Chances are, they’re working for Lyndon LaRouche.

        LaRouche is a perpetual office seeker with a messiah complex, who operates his own batshit loony (but thankfully ineffective) political machine in a manner freakishly remniscent of a religious cult. Many of his political workers are young adults who think LaRouche, and only LaRouche, knows what needs to be done to Save The World.

      • Charles Vincent

        That does not prove the article I cited is inaccurate. I’ll rephrase the statement, prove that the article I cited is or has inaccurate information in it.

        ” Many of his political workers are young adults who think LaRouche, and
        only LaRouche, knows what needs to be done to Save The World.”
        Sort of reminiscent of the Obama followers then I guess. Lets destroy the idea that Obama is any different then shall we…

        http://www DOT youtube DOT com/watch?v=K3XK2xxR1lA


        http://www DOT youtube DOT com/watch?v=p33luYolRl4

    • Jim,

      I agree with you inasfar as the WoP being ineffectual and that what we need are more jobs (specifically, more living wage ones) and securities and less stop-gap measures.

      However, I’m not sure how I feel about “nothing grows the poverty class more rapidly than single-parenthood”, though I agree that the WoP is largely ineffective in reducing poverty. There is an assumption here that mothers are “rewarded” for having more children, but I believe that assumption dies quick once one looks at the figures and realities. No woman thinks, “If I have more babies, I make out like a bandit!” Some may not think of consequences, but more likely they’re faced with the consequences through shaming and culture all the danggold time.

      • Jim Bean

        You may be right. I assume you’ve not only figured in the additional welfare benefits per child but the additional ‘earned income tax credits’ as well. They increase considerably up through the third child.

      • Yes. But so do costs.

    • Charles Vincent

      This might interest you the first 8 minutes are him making the case but he gets to this “It cannot be denied that the welfare system that rewards mothers for remaining single and delivering more babies has been catastrophic for the black community specifically and society in general. (For nothing grows the poverty class more rapidly than single-parenthood)”
      http://www DOT youtube DOT com/watch?v=g9bRDNgd6E4

  • Dre

    Thank you for mentioning the stigma of the black “welfare queen”, it is very demeaning and far from the truth = /

  • Matthew Reece

    “There was no plan to end poverty. That would take some planning that Lyndon Johnson and the US Congress of neither fifty years ago nor now are willing to deal with.”
    Actually, that would have taken private enterprise without government interference just another few decades, based on the sharp decline in poverty from 1945 to 1964.

    • The sharp decline abetted by unions and a strong post-war economy? That one?

      • Matthew Reece

        Yes, that one. Note that consistent libertarians will not oppose unions. What will be opposed is government backing of unions (or employers, for that matter). Unions are fine as long as no one is forced to join or not to join a union and no employer is forced to recognize or not to recognize a union.

      • Unions work based on numbers. So your opposition basically says you don’t support unions, unless they’ve been completely deteethed and ineffectual. So, you don’t support unions or the right for workers to petition.

      • Matthew Reece

        A union which cannot convince enough people to join it voluntarily has no moral right to operate because it relies upon violations of the non-aggression principle.

  • strayaway

    “For every dollar spent on that program $1.73 is generated throughout the economy”

    I looked up food stamp numbers. “SNAP benefits costs $76.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2013 and supplied roughly 47.6 million Americans with an average of $133.08 per month ($4.43/day) in food assistance.” Food stamp spending has increased 70% under President Obama. What could be a better indication that the economy is booming under this President?

    I’m not arguing that we should allow people to be without food but what I want to know how $1.73 is generated from the $1 spent on food stamps. First, we have to take $1.73 away from a current or future taxpayer. In either case they can’t spend it so the economy has $1 less spent elsewhere. Then we have to administer this program so we have to tax or borrow some more money to do that. Wouldn’t the dollar taken from a taxpayer plus its administrative costs also have generated a similar or greater amount or does this magic only work if money is spent on food stamps?

    • You make the assumption that people on SNAP don’t pay taxes or that their children won’t pay taxes…

      • strayaway

        I do assume that SNAP recipients don’t, for the most part, pay taxes. Why should we fine their children?

      • Then you assume wrong.

      • strayaway

        Since 43% of Americans don’t pay income taxes, I assume that most of the 47M Americans receiving SNAP benefits are not given to those who are financially better off.

      • You’re assuming falsely that those on Food Stamps fit in the list of those who don’t pay *federal* income taxes. This isn’t necessarily true, first. Second, there are variety of other taxes they directly and indirectly pay, including sales taxes and phone taxes, state income taxes, SS, Medicaid, property taxes, etc.

      • strayaway

        It is nonsensical to believe that welfare programs stimulate the economy or that every $1 spent on food stamps boosts spending by $1.73. If that were true, the government should buy us all food. I’ve got it! the Federal Reserve should print more money and buy us all gourmet food. That would restore the economy with this magical $1>$1.73 reasoning. It’s magic. I love magic.

    • Jim Bean

      Good on you. This voo-doo notion the Left has that if you speed up the frequency at which a dollar circulates through the economy, that dollar will magically increase in value to $1.73 is preposterous. You’d think even a ten year old kid could figure that out.