When Fighting Poverty, Good Intentions Aren’t Good Enough

Liberal politicians often defend ineffective, costly legislative initiatives that at first glance seem compassionate.  As we reflect today on the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” we need to question its effectiveness and that of other liberal, big government attempts to solve or reduce the problem of poverty in America.  Despite the fact that the federal government spends billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars on big-government programs, 15 percent of Americans still live in poverty.

That’s unchanged since the birth of the “War on Poverty” in the mid-1960’s.  The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector notes in the Wall Street Journal (sub. req’d):

LBJ promised that the war on poverty would be an “investment” that would “return its cost manifold to the entire economy.” But the country has invested $20.7 trillion in 2011 dollars over the past 50 years. What does America have to show for its investment? Apparently, almost nothing: The official poverty rate persists with little improvement.

This is in part, he explains, due to the inaccurate definition of the term poverty today.  Need proof?

According to a variety of government sources, including census data and surveys by federal agencies, the typical American living below the poverty level in 2013 lives in a house or apartment that is in good repair, equipped with air conditioning and cable TV. His home is larger than the home of the average nonpoor French, German or English man. 

Neverthless, LBJ’s alleged goal of turnign “taxeaters” into “taxpayers” — turning dependent individuals into independent, productive individuals — has been a failure.  Yet, liberals persist in their big-government-fixes-all mentality.

Examples of liberals advocating for seemingly compassionate — but ruefully ineffective — policy solutions to poverty abound!

We need look no further than the debate over food stamps in the so-called farm bill.  Wednesday morning on the House floor, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) 14% condemned the notion that $8 billion might be cut from the food stamp program, because hungry families need the assistance.

Are people who want to reform the food stamp program — one that has doubled in size twice since 2000 — callous and insensitive to the needs of the hungry?  Or do they have legitimate concerns with fraud and abuse inherent in the program?  Liberals never want to discuss that side of the coin.

The Heritage Foundation

The Heritage Foundation

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) 13% recently patronized Republicans about the issue of an unemployment insurance extension.

On the Senate floor Monday he said, “I hope a few reasonable and empathetic Republicans will… help us advance [the unemployment insurance extension] bill,” as they debated the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act (S.1845) before a procedural vote.

He willfully ignores President Obama’s failures and those of his own party that have resulted in an economic environment that makes it difficult for the American people to find jobs.

The Heritage Foundation explains, “Sure, liberals are touting the three-month extension (which isn’t offset by spending cuts elsewhere, despite its hefty $6.5 billion price tag) as an act of compassion for struggling unemployed Americans. But the data shows a different picture: Give people unemployment benefits, and it’s likely they will take longer to find employment.”

Instead of these big-government policies, conservatives need to promote their policy ideas, ideas that would get to the root cause of dependence on big-government handouts.

For example, able-bodied, non-elderly adult welfare recipients should be required to work or prepare for work as a condition of receiving benefits.  Why?  It’s been proven effective at getting people back to work and independence.

A marriage culture should be promoted to reduce childhood poverty.  Why? Heritage’s Robert Rector explains, “Children raised in the growing number of single-parent homes are four times more likely to be living in poverty than children reared by married parents of the same education level.”

Big-government solutions are not solutions at all.  They’re political currency for liberals, but they’re not a means of combating poverty effectively.  This attitude should no longer dominate our political landscape.  Instead, conservative solutions — i.e. lasting ones — need to take root.


How to Fight Poverty — and Win

Robert Rector: How the War on Poverty Was Lost



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