In this age of political polarization, there isn’t much that politicians from both sides of the aisle can agree on. However, one point both sides find themselves in concurrence on is the failure of the War on Poverty.
This legislation, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, included several entitlement programs aimed at getting poor Americans back on their feet such as food stamps, Medicare, and Medicaid. Of course, it didn’t end up working out exactly as planned. A YouGov poll, which was conducted by the Cato Institute revealed the surprisingly bipartisan opinions:
Some 77% of American polled felt current entitlement programs were “ineffective.” This number includes 72% of Democrats and 80% of Republicans. Surprisingly, many Americans who are themselves receiving entitlements or would qualify for them also agree. 63% of those currently receiving welfare believe the overall War on Poverty has failed.
Amazingly, since the initial War on Poverty declaration by Lyndon Johnson in 1965, America has spent $26 trillion on entitlement programs. Despite the immense amount of resources being spent, it seems the efforts haven’t been effective up to this point. The majority of those polled didn’t feel their situation would get any better even if Americans gave more to the current poverty fighting programs.
According to 59% of those receiving welfare benefits, a focus on the causes of poverty, not entitlement programs themselves, would be much more effective. They say focusing on and eliminating causes of poverty is better than “giving what money we have to the poor people to help them get on their feet.” Another 76% of those on welfare believe more economic growth would help them much more than simply increasing welfare spending. Consequently, the politicians who want to increase taxes, business regulations and want to redistribute weath are hopelessly out of touch when it comes to what the poor really want and need.
Even when the economy is booming and there are jobs to be had, the poor can still be hindered from prospering financially due to government policies. For example, an occupational license or some other simple credential is listed by 45% of welfare recipients as a reason they have been prevented from finding employment, even with available jobs. The poor also claim it’s difficult for them to move into areas with better schools, more jobs and less crime. Some 78% of them claim this is especially difficult because of high housing and rent costs. This prevents them from moving to areas where jobs abound. Ironically, government policies are often what drives this number up, adding anywhere from 10 to 50% of housing costs.
It seems both political factions in America have been misreading the poor. The left typically assumes the poor need to be taken care of. Those on the right politically tend to see the poor as takers, only wanting more handouts and not being willing to work for what they want. Both are wrong.
America’s poor don’t want more handouts, and they don’t want to be “taken care of.” Instead, they want to have more opportunities to grow and expand their horizons and make a better life for their families. Unfortunately, many of the government programs that were created to help Americans have only kept them trapped in a cycle of entitlement from which they can’t seem to break away.
To truly help the poor succeed, government needs to be limited, free markets need to be encouraged, and more control needs to be given to the poor themselves to better their own situations. If politicians would recognize this fact and promote these principles, they might find themselves with more support than they ever thought possible.