One of the cornerstones of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs was the War on Poverty. Johnson’s war on poverty did fail- there’s still poverty. It failed because it’s programs only targeted certain groups instead of everybody. It failed because it focused on services and not employment. It failed because it attacked the symptoms of the problem and not the disease.
The disease is still with us today and it’s gotten far worse. The disease is a system that did not, and does not; provide enough jobs at wages above the poverty level. The problem is a system that keeps the poor isolated and ignorant. The problem is a system that keeps the middle class aligned against the poor when they should be siding with them to fix a system that mainly benefits corporations, banks and the filthy rich.
A good place to find information on Johnson’s war on poverty is Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society published in 1998 by John Andrew. It was not a complete failure. It released about six million Americans from poverty between 1964 and 1969. The number of Americans of all types living in poverty dropped from 18 percent in 1960 to 9 percent by 1972.
Compared to the budgets for other programs like our war on drugs, our war on terror and our war on crime, the war on poverty cost almost nothing. For example, the $1.5 billion authorized for the war on poverty in 1966 was only 1.5 percent of the total federal budget. That was about $60 spent for the whole year on each person in poverty. Heck, I’ll bet most people reading this would be willing to give at least $60 to help one poor person get through the year.
One big factor that destroyed Johnson’s Great Society programs was the Vietnam War. While the government spent $60 per person, per year to fight poverty, it spent $300,000 to kill one Vietcong. Another factor was the fact that the US economy tanked in 1973.
But poverty levels have steadily increased since the country took a hard right turn in the eighties. Which is too bad, because the end of the cold war should have freed up some of that excessive military spending. Yet, in 1996 about 22 percent of US children were living in poverty. You can’t blame their situation on their laziness.
Many would like to blame the victims. Sure, there is a culture of poverty and sure it causes people to make things worse for themselves. But that culture is created by the simple fact that they are poor. The facts show that welfare benefits do not cause the problem. A lack of steady jobs is a far greater cause of the oft-cited problems among the poor.