The “War” on Poverty: How Can We Have Spent So Much, and Achieved So Little?

Adjusted for inflation, our government has spent five times more in 50 years “fighting poverty” than we’ve spend onwelfare spending and percentage of poor every war since the American Revolution. Yet, the number of people classified as “poor” has not changed much in 40 years. How can this be? The percentage of people considered poor has remained pretty static for a long time, yet spending grows at an atmospheric rate. Could it be there are too many programs? Too many agencies? Too many government functionaries collecting a paycheck to do the same thing as someone in some other department?

Over 100 million people, about one third of the U.S. population, received aid from at least one welfare program at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient in 2013. If converted into cash, current means-tested spending is five times the amount needed to eliminate all poverty in the U.S. But today the Census will almost certainly proclaim that around 14 percent of Americans are still poor. The present poverty rate is almost exactly the same as it was in 1967 a few years after the War on Poverty started. Census data actually shows that poverty has gotten worse over the last 40 years.

How is this possible? How can the taxpayers spend $22 trillion on welfare while poverty gets worse? The typical family that Census identifies as poor has air conditioning, cable or satellite TV, and a computer in its home.The answer is it isn’t possible.  Census counts a family as poor if its income falls below specified thresholds. But in counting family “income,” Census ignores nearly the entire $943 billion welfare state.For most Americans, the word “poverty” means significant material deprivation, an inability to provide a family with adequate nutritious food, reasonable shelter and clothing. But only a small portion of the more than 40 million people labelled as poor by Census fit that description.

The media frequently associate the idea of poverty with being homeless. But less than two percent of the poor are homeless.  Only one in ten live in mobile homes. The typical house or apartment of the poor is in good repair and uncrowded; it is actually larger than the average dwelling of non-poor French, Germans or English. According to government surveys, the typical family that Census identifies as poor has air conditioning, cable or satellite TV, and a computer in his home. Forty percent have a wide screen HDTV and another 40 percent have internet access. Three quarters of the poor own a car and roughly a third have two or more cars. These numbers are not the result of the current bad economy pushing middle class families into poverty; instead, they reflect a steady improvement in living conditions among the poor for many decades.

poor infographic

via The War on Poverty Has Been a Colossal Flop.


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