War on Poverty- Has it Really Succeeded?

Before you read any further, let me present to you a question to consider. Has the so called “War on Poverty” succeeded in any real way? Ponder on that and think about the past 50 years since Lyndon Johnson began the fight against poverty back in the 1964 with his State of the Union address. Legislation coming from this speech includes the Economic Opportunity Act, and establishment of Medicare. As part of his “Great Society,” Johnson wanted to further increase government involvement in education and medical care. In retrospect however, have government programs like these really helped ease the poverty of American people in the long run? Let’s take a look at some statistics about the American poverty rate since this legislation was enacted.

In 1965, the poverty rate was about 17%. The level slowly decreased over a few years until it spiked again in 1983, rising to about 15.2%. The poverty level has since stayed relatively low compared to the higher levels of the early to mid-1960s. In the last census, the 2011 estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau for the poverty rate was 15%, or about 46.2 million people below the poverty line. In the short term, it may have reduced the poverty rate by a few percentage points, but in the long run, has the overall poverty rate in the United States really changed all that much? According to the rates of poverty that are seen today, I say that it has not.


If one looks at the national poverty level today, it can be seen that the level is really not all that much better than it was when the “War on Poverty” began. This so called war has exponentially increased the size of the federal government, creating programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and expansion of the Social Security program. From these programs, the federal government has exponentially increased; some deem many programs as unnecessary and wasteful. One example of these new expanded welfare programs is a new program recently introduced that will provide food stamps for pets. Is something like that really going to happen? Since when is providing pet food an absolute necessity? What has happened to the entrepreneurial spirit of making ones’ own way that has defined America for over 200 years? My answer: our society has become an entitlement society, which is starting to say “I need, I want, I deserve.”

In retrospect, is the “Great Society” really so great? When put into practice, does it really do anything beyond the creation of dependence on taxpayer dollars to keep a family fed? This past Thanksgiving, more than 42.2 million people were dependent on food stamps, according to a Huffington Post report. Is having more than 42 million people dependent on the government really a great society? Is this the kind of society that LBJ had in mind when he instigated the War on Poverty.

Furthermore, is this whole idea of the “Great Society” even Constitutional? I say that it most certainly is not. Now you may ask what my justification is for saying that action like this is unconstitutional. In this case, I plead the tenth amendment. In Washington, the tenth amendment is probably the least referred to part of the Constitution.. The amendment states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Does the Constitution, in its most raw form, provide any sort of authority to the federal government to assist those under the poverty line? This kind of action should be left to the states, as this kind of action is not specifically enumerated to the federal government by the Constitution.

Nonetheless, we cannot turn back history, and the actions taken by administrations like FDR and LBJ were just the beginnings of the inflation of the federal government to what it is today. Projections are that the federal government will continue to grow in welfare programs provided and payments given out. If we really look back and analyze all the attempts to bring people out of poverty, have any of these attempts really succeeded like LBJ preached that they would? Again, I say that they most certainly have not.



Bradford, Harry. “Food Stamps Used By Record 42.2 Million Americans This Thanksgiving.” Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/21/food-stamps-thanksgiving-record_n_2170779.html (accessed February 25, 2013).

“Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” [ushistory.org].” ushistory.org. http://www.ushistory.org/us/56e.asp (accessed February 25, 2013).

Sastry, Anjuli. “Food Stamps … For Pets? – ABC News.” ABCNews.com – Breaking News, Latest News & Top Video News – ABC News. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/02/food-stamps-for-pets/ (accessed February 25, 2013).



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