Poverty Up for Those of Working Age Since 'War on Poverty'
The percentage of Americans ages 18 to 64 who live below the poverty line has risen by 30.5 percent since 1966, two years after President Lyndon Johnson declared the War on Poverty, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data.
"We have declared unconditional war on poverty," Johnson declared in 1964. "Our objective is total victory. I believe that 30 years from now Americans will look back on these 1960s as the time of the great American breakthrough toward the victory of prosperity over poverty."
But a report from the House Budget Committee, "The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later," states: "Today, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, we are once again debating the best way to help the least among us.
"On this important anniversary, we should take stock of the federal government's anti-poverty programs — and figure out why we have yet to achieve the 'total victory' Johnson predicted."
According to the Census Bureau, 13.7 percent of those ages 18 to 64 — 26,497,000 people — were living below the poverty line in 2012. In 1966, 10.5 percent of that age group — 11,007,000 people out of 105,241,000 — were living below the poverty line. (The Census did not report data for this demographic in 1965 and 1966.)
From 10.5 percent to 13.7 percent is an increase of 30.5 percent.
An average family of four was considered poor in 2012 if its pre-tax cash income for the year was below $23,492.
That threshold reflects "crude estimates of the amount of money individuals or families, of various size and composition, need per year to purchase a basket of goods and services deemed as 'minimally adequate,'" according to the Congressional Research Service.
The Budget Committee report noted that "during his administration, Lyndon Johnson expanded the size and scope of assistance programs to an unprecedented degree. The Great Society created or made permanent a number of programs that remain with us today" — including Medicaid, food stamps, Head Start, Job Corps, Volunteers in Service to America, and child-nutrition programs.
But today, the federal government's anti-poverty programs are "duplicative and complex," the committee observed.
"There are at least 92 federal programs designed to help lower-income Americans. For instance, there are dozens of education and job-training programs, 17 different food-aid programs, and over 20 housing programs."
The federal government spent nearly $800 billion on these programs in fiscal year 2012 alone, including $300 billion on healthcare, $200 billion on cash aid, $100 billion on food aid, $90 billion on education and job training, and $50 billion on housing.
Despite the massive spending in the last five decades, the overall poverty rate has gone down only a few percentage points, from 17.3 percent in 1965 to 15 percent in 2012.
"Perhaps the single most important determinant of poverty is family structure," the committee reported, adding that "poverty is most concentrated among broken families. For all families, the poverty rate was 13.1 percent. But 34.2 percent of families headed by a single female were considered below poverty, and 22.8 percent of households composed of [unmarried] individuals were considered to be in poverty."
In 1960, 70 percent of black children and 97 percent of white children were born to married couples. Today, just 30 percent of black children and 76 percent of white children are born to a married couple.