The War on Poverty Continues to be a War on the Family

Jun. 6, 2014
by Bob Adelmann

In less than three months, the War on Poverty announced by then-President Lyndon Johnson in August 1964 will be 50 years old. There ought to be some victors in this war that has cost the American taxpayer more than $17 trillion. And indeed, there are: the initial program, the Economic Opportunity Act, was funded by (in today’s diluted money) $178 billion. Today, there are 126 federal welfare programs and numerous state ones spewing forth taxpayer monies at the rate of a trillion dollars a year. That means government jobs for millions to monitor, track, follow, and spend, and then request additional funds for next year.

But what about the intended beneficiaries? How are they doing?

Not so well. The latest from the Census Bureau shows that the percentage of American children living in poverty is more than one in five: 21.3 percent, to be exact. Back in 1964, it was 22.7 percent. But the real casualty has been the American family, especially the black American family.

Walter Williams has been reporting on that war for years now, and he noted that before war was declared, poverty among black families had dropped from 87 percent in 1940 to 45 percent by 1960. But ever since war was declared, black families and their children have seen those numbers stall. Said the bureau:

In 2012, a child living in a single female-headed family was well over four times more likely to be poor than a child living in a married-couple family.

In 2012, among all children living in single female-headed families, 47.2 percent were poor.

Most of those single female-headed households are black, at least for the moment. The Associated Press noted in 2010:

Children of unmarried mothers of any race are more likely to perform poorly in school, go to prison, use drugs, be poor as adults, and have their own children out of wedlock.

The black community’s 72 percent [illegitimacy] rate eclipses that of most other groups: 17 percent of Asians, 29 percent of whites, 53 percent of Hispanics, and 66 percent of Native Americans were born to unwed mothers in 2008….

At the time, the AP writer tried to explain away the huge discrepancy by blaming it on the latent remaining legacy of segregation and the drug epidemic that has put huge numbers of black males behind bars. In his commentary, however, he revealed the real reason: “Welfare [state] laws created a financial incentive for poor mothers to stay single.”

The breakdown and virtual disappearance of the black family unit was predicted back in 1965 by former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in his book The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. He said:

The steady expansion of welfare programs can be taken as a measure of the steady disintegration of the Negro family structure over the past generation in the United States….

At the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of the Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family.

His book was met with withering criticism at the time because he blamed the disintegration (black illegitimacy at the time was just 26 percent) on the destruction of the nuclear family – i.e., mom, dad and kids – rather than on the politically correct mindset at the time: economic conditions were primarily responsible for social success. Moynihan later noted: “It turned out that what everyone knew [to be true] was evidently not so.”

That mindset, however, remains permanently cemented into place in Washington, regardless of the present reality. Welfare spending under Obama has exploded by more than 40 percent since January 2009. When that number is added to states’ attempts to alleviate poverty, the war is costing taxpayers a trillion dollars a year. The total spent since Johnson’s declaration of war in 1964? $17 trillion, and counting. That’s more than the gross output of the US economy in one year, and exceeds the national debt.

The Cato Institute has been tracking “The American Welfare State” for years, and noted that “the poverty rate [today] is perilously close to where we were more than 40 years ago … throwing money at the problem has neither reduced poverty nor made the poor self-sufficient.”

Cato did some math and discovered that the amount spent on the war on poverty in America every year comes to more than $61,000 per family of three. And yet the poverty level for that family is just $18,530. Notes Cato: “We should have theoretically wiped out poverty in American many times over.”

The problem, however, according to Cato, is that the war isn’t designed to lift the poor out of poverty, but instead to make it comfortable:

The vast majority of current programs are focused on making poverty more comfortable – giving poor people more food, better shelter, health care, and so forth – rather than giving people the tools that will help them escape poverty.

The war on poverty is already infecting poor white American families as well. The white illegitimacy rate today – at about 30 percent – is where poor black American families were in the 1960s. In Charles Murray’s latest book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, he notes that, thanks to the never-ending, ever-escalating war on poverty, poor white America is being pushed into illegitimacy, crime, and poverty.

It’s because the welfare state is a solvent: it dissolves the glue that holds the traditional family unit together: thrift, hard work, loving parents in the bond of marriage. Perverse welfare state incentives now reward opposite behaviors.

There are winners in the war on poverty: the vast and expanding array of welfare state programs at the state and federal levels, with bureaucrats eager to spend and then ask for more. The losers are the very ones allegedly targeted by the programs to help: the poor. Instead, the poor are remaining poor while the family unit is dissolving around them.

The destruction of the black family unit is nearly complete, thanks to the great war on poverty, with the white family unit right behind. 

A graduate of Cornell University and a former investment advisor, Bob is a regular contributor to The New American magazine and blogs frequently at www.LightFromTheRight.com, primarily on economics and politics. He can be reached at BobAdelmann@msn.com.

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Sources:

Cato: The American Welfare State 2012

CNS News:      Study: More Than Half a Trillion Dollars Spent on Welfare But Poverty Levels Unaffected

The War on Poverty

CNS News:      1 in 5 Children Live in Poverty in U.S.

Gary North: After 50 Years, Washington Has Lost the War on Poverty

Moynihan’s book: The Negro Family: The Case For National Action

NBC News:     Blacks struggle with 72 percent unwed mother rate

Murray’s book: Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

Walter Williams: “Black Progress” Through Politics?

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