The War On Poverty

“The official poverty rate in the United States, defined as lacking resources for life’s basic needs, was 19% in 1964. It had fallen to 12.1% by 1969, the year Johnson left office. Last year, it stood at 15%.”

— USA Today.

What would a victory in the War on Poverty look like?  Our inner cities would not be places of despair and hopelessness, and they would not be zones of violence where most Americans fear to tread.  Hunger in America has been overstated by fundraising ads (food stamps feed 45 million Americans, and the USDA runs 14 other food programs), but by any other measure—murders, drug overdoses, despair, alcohol abuse, fatherless parenting that dooms the next generation to more of the same—our inner cities are in a constant state of crisis.

NBC and Pew say that 38% of all African-American children live in poverty.  Front Page magazine says that we as a nation have spent “$20.7 trillion in 2011 dollars over the past 50 years on welfare programs, far exceeding what the U.S. has spent on every war it has fought.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan puts the figure much lower, at $15 trillion, but a report to members of Congress by The Congressional Research Service said that the War in Afghanistan, in 2011 dollars, cost just $321 billion.  Iraq cost $784 billion, the first Gulf War cost $102 billion, and Vietnam, in 2011 dollars, cost $738 billion.  President Johnson’s War on Poverty clearly cost far more than his War in Vietnam, and far more than all the wars that followed.

By Labor Day there had already been 500 murders in Chicago.  Last year there were 344 murders in Baltimore, and even little Milwaukee counted 145 homicides in a list offered by FactCheck.org, which was trying to make the point that homicides have declined.  They have—because we have imprisoned huge numbers of violent young men—but the murder totals they offered for just nine cities added up to 2,248 in 2015.

There wasn’t any year in which American troop deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan reached even half that figure.

The War on Poverty has been underway for 50 years, and we’re still losing.

 

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