The War on Poverty at 50

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

The two statistics about the War on Poverty that should get the most publicity, Charles Murray says, are these:

In 1949, 41 percent of Americans were below the poverty line (scholars have retrospectively applied the official definition of “poverty” to the 1950 census); when LBJ announced the War on Poverty in 1964, that proportion had dropped to 19 percent. Contemplate that pair of numbers for a moment. In just the 15 years between 1949 and 1964, the American poverty rate had dropped by 22 percentage points.

What had the government done to help? By the definition of the 1960s and thereafter, nothing. The federal government sponsored no education programs for the disadvantaged. No training programs. No jobs programs. No community action. No affirmative action. No Head Start. No welfare whatsoever for men, and only a stingy cash payment for unmarried mothers, hedged with restrictions. The federal government was missing in action in the real war against poverty — and yet somehow America cut poverty by more than half.

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