The Government’s War on Poverty Reduction

Arnold Ahlert is a former NY Post op-ed columnist currently contributing to JewishWorldReview.com, HumanEvents.com and CanadaFreePress.com. He may be reached at atahlert@comcast.net.


homelessWhile President Obama is pushing his redistributionist war on “income inequality,” the American left is excited about a new study, “Trends in Poverty with an Anchored Supplemental Poverty Measure” that purports to show that government welfare programs have significantly eased the burden faced by poor Americans in the nearly 50 years since Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty was launched. According to the research, the so-called safety net was instrumental in reducing the percentage of poor Americans from 26 percent in 1967, to 16 percent in 2012. Yet even in the midst of the euphoria, the Washington Post reveals that the study’s findings “contradict the official poverty rate, which suggests there has been no decline in the percentage of Americans experiencing poverty since then.” In other words, the statistics have been manipulated to reach the desired result.

While that conclusion may rankle leftists, it is political blogger Kevin Drum writing for the left-leaning Mother Jones who explains why it is true. In an article with an equally rankling title, “New Study Says Poverty Rate Hasn’t Budged For 40 Years,” Drum notes that statistical analyses must be done with care. “If it’s test scores among school kids, you need to disaggregate by race and ethnic background,” he writes. “If it’s life expectancy and Social Security, you need to make sure to use life expectancy at age 65, not life expectancy at birth. And if it’s poverty measurements, you need to distinguish between elderly poverty and working-age poverty.”

When he separates elderly poverty–which is considerably lessened by Social Security, a program that existed long before the War on Poverty began–from working age poverty, the results are discouraging. Overall poverty “has still declined, but not by much and only between 1967 and 1973. Since 1973, the poverty rate hasn’t budged. It was 15 percent forty years ago and it’s 15 percent today.” And while he applauds the “good news” in the study, he is forced to acknowledge that it is the result of its authors using “their new measurement” to achieve it.

By contrast, the Cato Institute’s Daniel J. Mitchell bases his findings on figures released by the Census Bureau. Those figures paint a damning picture of leftist re-distribution schemes, revealing that the largest decrease in the percentage of poor Americans occurred before LBJ’s War on Poverty began. From 1950 to the late 1960s, Census Bureau data show the poverty rate in a dramatic decline. Immediately after LBJ’s “Great Society” programs kicked into gear, the poverty rate began to stagnate. And it has more or less stagnated ever since, despite trillions of dollars of government spending on means-tested programs. Mitchell concludes there could be alternative explanations for such stagnation, but he wonders aloud whether “government intervention may be encouraging poverty by making indolence more attractive than work.”

A 2013 study published by the Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner and Charles Hughes provides some daunting insight. “The current welfare system provides such a high level of benefits that it acts as a disincentive for work,” Tanner and Hughes write. “Welfare currently pays more than a minimum-wage job in 35 states, even after accounting for the Earned Income Tax Credit, and in 13 states it pays more than $15 per hour.”

Tanner and Hughes further contend that if political officials are serious about reducing dependence and rewarding work, “they should consider strengthening welfare work requirements, removing exemptions, and narrowing the definition of work. Moreover, states should consider ways to shrink the gap between the value of welfare and work by reducing current benefit levels and tightening eligibility requirements.”

Unfortunately, the Obama administration has been moving in the opposite direction. In 2012 they gutted much of the welfare reform instituted by The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Better known as the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, the bill was enacted during the Clinton administration with the kind of bipartisan majorities in both chambers of Congress for which today’s Democrats ostensibly yearn. And it was gutted in a move that has become depressingly familiar: Congress was bypassed, and a policy directive was issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It was gutted despite the reality that in the four years following its passage, welfare caseloads and childhood hunger numbers were cut nearly in half, even as employment surged, and poverty among single mothers and black Americans dropped to historic lows.

That leftists would be more excited about studies that require “new measurements” to promote the value of dependency on government programs, as opposed to empirical evidence that demonstrates unquestionable success in promoting independence and work, is quite revealing.

Equally revealing was the Obama administration’s efforts to promote their own set of “new measurements” with regard to poverty itself. A 2010 article by National Review’s Robert Rector explained the change, noting that the old poverty measure was based on “absolute purchasing power–how much steak and potatoes you can buy,” he wrote. “The new measure will count comparative purchasing power–how much steak and potatoes you can buy relative to other people.”

The reason for the change is obvious: once poverty is relative, it becomes impossible to eliminate–along with the government programs and the massive amounts of bureaucracy needed to do so. Furthermore, as Rector illuminates, “if the real income of every single American were to magically triple over night, the new poverty measure would show there had been no drop in ‘poverty,’ because the poverty income threshold would also triple.” Rector then gets to the issue that is very much in the forefront of President Obama’s current populist pitch. “In honest English, the new system will measure income inequality, not poverty,” he wrote three years ago.

Most Americans are undoubtedly inclined to help the poor. Yet as a Heritage Foundation study released in 2011 reveals, the term has largely lost its meaning, at least in terms of material wherewithal:

In 2005, the typical household defined as poor by the government had a car and air conditioning. For entertainment, the household had two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and a VCR. If there were children, especially boys, in the home, the family had a game system, such as an Xbox or a PlayStation. In the kitchen, the household had a refrigerator, an oven and stove, and a microwave. Other household conveniences included a clothes washer, clothes dryer, ceiling fans, a cordless phone, and a coffee maker.

Such an inconvenient reality underscores the Obama administration’s need to promote poverty in relative terms. If Americans were largely aware of the true nature of American poverty, a safety net that has engendered a significant portion of our $17 trillion debt bomb would be a prime target for serious reformation.

Thus, the American left is once again hard at work, pulling on the public’s heartstrings. A good example of that effort is a five-part New York Times story dedicated to the travails of a New York City family, and the hard-heartedness of a town where income inequality looms large. Yet as the rival New York Post reveals, the “hooey” presented by the Times downplays some critical facts, including the reality that the family’s “shelter, rental assistance and food stamps alone have added up to nearly half a million dollars since 2000. In addition, Medicaid covers health care.” They further note that the parents of the eight children are a couple “with a long history of drug problems and difficulty holding jobs.”

Thus, the Post reaches an alternative conclusion. “If the city is at fault here, it might well be for having been too generous–providing so much that neither the father nor mother seems much inclined to provide for their kids.”

If there is one thing the left depends on when it comes to pushing the expansion of the welfare state, it is the idea that such disinclination can never be measured statistically. Moreover, it would be utterly anathema for those promoting statist solutions to all of our problems to do so. Better to characterize any effort to reduce government dependency as “mean-spirited,” and any effort to weed out fraud, such as obtaining fingerprint IDs from welfare recipients for example, as stigmatizing.

All of that being said, the “wealth gap” that ostensibly antagonizes the president is in fact occurring. The word “ostensibly” is critical because it is precisely this administration’s embrace of the Federal Reserve’s Quantitative Easing policy most responsible for it. As the New York Post’s John Crudele reiterates, it has caused the “largest wealth redistribution in the history of mankind.” “Those who’ve saved and rely on interest income are being screwed,” he explains. “Those wealthy enough and courageous enough to put their money into the stock market have seen their wealth soar.”

What Crudele doesn’t explain is why the Fed’s interest rate has been kept at virtually zero for the longest stretch of time in the history of the nation. It’s because the vast amount of deficit spending necessary to underwrite the welfare state–and the unconscionable amount of interest payments generated as a result–would be virtually impossible to continue doing at historically normal interest levels. Furthermore, what amounts to little more than a debasement of our currency, represented by the $85 billion per month of newly-created money, exacerbates the wealth gap even more: devalued currency amounts to a de facto tax on everything Americans buy.

Yet while this utterly misguided policy has been a boon for the rich, the massive amount of government “stimulus” that has necessitated it has done virtually nothing for the poor, other than providing an increasing disincentive to work. And while the poor may be less poor in material terms relative to the rest of the world, they still remain afflicted by the same dignity-sapping dependency that relying on the tender mercies of bureaucrat masters inevitably engenders. It is precisely the maintenance of that dependency–rather than the liberation from it–that forms the heart of progressive policy-making.

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  • AKWrtr

    Great article. You’ve clearly articulated so many points I’ve thought about myself and tried to verbalize in discussions with my many liberal/progressive friends. I’ll just point them to this article!

    • John E Coleman

      having tried for many long days , I can say without doubt ,
      I can’t teach anyone that is Stupid !!

      As is the case with all Democrats whot voted for King Obama !

      • Headed4TheHills

        Now, John, there is a difference between stupid and willfully ignorant.
        Forrest Gump was stupid. Liberals are willfully ignorant. Forrest proved that stupid can and does get better through education.

  • Well Done

    The left are tireless in their campaign to destroy Western civilization. They have begun to stray well into the realm of the insane, though. Like a bank robber using a banana to threaten the teller, the left are using such transparent propaganda, such as obviously biased reports and “science” from “scientists” whose priority list obviously doesn’t feature science anywhere near the top.

    This new campaign, “income inequality”, first came to my attention when not one, but two books came out on the subject. They might as well have had trumpets sounding a charge! One was written by Linda McQuaig, well-known hard left claptrap-monger, who also happens to be the hard-left NDP candidate in a Toronto riding (she lost a by-election).

    Apparently, according to McQuaig, “universal” social programs are the Canadian way, and “means testing” is an American abomination. This sort of pseudo-nationalism – claiming some lefty mating call as a feature of true patriotism – is another tactic used by the left. They’re getting comical.

    • John Davidson

      Good point. I am always leery of programs with nice sounding terms.

  • http://tinatrent.com/ Tina Trent

    Poverty means you don’t buy your own widescreen or smartphone: others buy it for you.

  • sprinklerman

    The false idea that government can drive people out of poverty by providing for them is nothing new.

    “I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think
    the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty,
    but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I traveled much, and I
    observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made
    for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became
    poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did
    for themselves, and became richer.” – Relating to prices and the poor, 1766
    Ben Franklin

    As a child, (much longer ago than I wish to reveal) during Halloween we were given small containers very much like a pint of milk, and we were asked by our schools to ask for change from those we visited when we went trick or treating. The program was done by UNICEF (a UN program). The idea was that there were so many poverty stricken children in Africa and we needed to help them. As far as I remember everyone did as they were asked and hundreds of millions of dollars must have been raised by this program for many years. The plight of the poor and their children in Africa relatively remains the same.

    • chuckie2u

      I learned a long time ago I could work 60 hours a week and give all my excess income to the poor and accomplish absolutely nothing. No Government or organization can or will remove poverty by taking from those who are willing to work and supporting those who will not.

      • NAHALKIDES

        Quite so – moreover, it is wrong to redistribute incomes, and it still would be even if anti-poverty programs “worked”.

  • chuckie2u

    My old economics professor stated Marx and Lenin were work oriented. No slackers. “Those who do not work do not eat!” Somewhere the American Left the slackers are now in the majority of voters demanding more “free stuff”. Maybe when those who are lucky enough to have a job will get fed up with the “free stuff” when they reach the 65 -75% income tax level. Of course Politicicians, Corporations and Government employees will be exempt as well as those considered in poverty.

  • John Davidson

    This time around, the Liberal radicals are the only ones getting rich.

  • kilfincelt

    The author of this article has learned one major truth. Statistics are much like computers–garbage in, garbage out. In other words bad data leads to bad statistics.

    • Headed4TheHills

      90% of all statistics are wrong 75% of the time

    • G force

      Too coy and pat a response.

      The challenge is to call out bad statistical analysis as it is presented for public consumption. That takes more intelligence and effort than simply reiterating bromides, however true they might be. If every dissenter mastered just ONE area in which inaccurate statistics are presented, and represented that fact-based critical perspective in personal, civic, and online interactions, we’d quickly build a body of reason, rather than rhetoric.

    • Crassus

      There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

  • T-Rex

    This is one more tactic put forth by the Great Divider. Some call him a fool and an idiot but he’s more of an opportunist. His prog/fascist agenda relies on the failure of the individual in favor of the success of the collective. Reigning in the free spirit of the persons exercising their Constitutional right to pursue life, liberty and happiness is far more difficult than corralling two or three generations of government dependents and the ill-informed, bleeding hearts that seek to save them from themselves. This Cloward/Piven/Alinsky game plan is obscured by its appeal to “equality” and “fairness”. What never occurs to those dependent on cradle to grave entitlements and the guilt-ridden who promote their collective method of financing is at some point there is no one left to pay. The use of “debt”, promoted and led by our fed gov, has become so ingrained far too many people have lost touch with the true value of our currency. Why worry when the “remaining balance” on your personal credit card is still in the black and the gov can up it’s “available credit” any time it wishes? It’s not a problem until you get to where you are scrambling to even make the “minimum payment”. To the low info voter that is the new “American Dream”.

    This is no accident. The working middle class will continue to pay the freight in taxes and in interest until working for a living is no longer worth the time and effort. That is when the prog/fascists will attempt the coup de grace that strips the citizens of their rights to do anything but service the government. The new standard of living will be whatever the government says it will be and you will have no voice in the matter.

  • carltjohnson

    ““If it’s test scores among school kids, you need to disaggregate by race and ethnic background,” he writes.”…WRONG! in so many ways, he is assuming that your “race” [which is a false idea] or ethnicity,determines your intelligence…that is ABSERED! All conscious beings have the same “potential” for knowledge; it is our individual essence, our individual propensity that differs from each other.

    • G force

      Not sure what “absered” means, but your larger assertion is absolutely inaccurate.

      Intelligence is a largely genetically determined capacity. The potential for knowledge is not only heritable, it is not equally distributed, and it is correlated with race.

      Go to HBD Chick’s blog, or that of Dr. James Thompson. Educate yourself. And learn to spell and punctuate.

      • John E Coleman

        I find your assertion of poor education less than poor ethics !
        You have shown it by your self centered egotistical reply to
        Mr Carltjohnson !, this true ambition must be that of a democrat !

        • carltjohnson

          Thank you John, I hope I addressed GForce’s misconception above. This is a tough subject for most, and most do not realize that both sides have been disempowered with faux knowledge. It has been so since the fall of Babylon, the leaders of which, out of fear, dispersed and divided us and confounded our language so we would not be a threat to them…

      • carltjohnson

        Aside from the assumption in this article; You are only addressing degrees of assimilated knowledge, the propensity of which may be inheritable or IQ., which is not a sign of intelligence…the degree one integrates this knowledge is, and all conscious humans have the necessary wherewithal to accomplish that. You also must understand that there is only one race of conscious beings, we come in all sizes shapes and colors…unfortunately, so does the other race on this planet…parasitical humanoids [scientific nomenclature]- with a lack of value creation and a lack of conscience, making them less than human in our sense. Incidentally, the latter has ruled over us for the past 8000 years…Ruled by”The dumbest among us”.
        Is that whom you choose to sleep with???

  • polygraph

    The reason for the change is obvious: once poverty is relative, it becomes impossible to eliminate–
    Someone has a jittery grasp of the obvious. Poverty is by it’s very nature relative. Is not the 10th billionaire on the top ten money makers the poorest of the lot? Even the Lord Jesus himself said, ” The poor you will always have with you.” So, many decades of the so-called War on Poverty has done little to eliminate poverty. It never can. It has made tax payers poorer and redistributed their “wealth” to those unable to some degree to work, but unfortunately those unwilling to work have cashed in in the meantime.
    Let’s put the Robin Hood mentality of taking earned tax revenue and essentially giving it to those less fortunate whether or not they deserve it, to an overdue rest. The poor will never go away and no government program will ever take the place of genuine charity from its citizens, nor should it.

  • NAHALKIDES

    Ahlert ably covered a lot of ground here. I would only add that these anti-poverty programs would still be wrong even if they somehow “worked” – no one has the right to steal from one man and give to another, even if by doing so that second man is no longer “poor” by whatever measurement is being used.

  • T-Rex

    Credit is a wonderful thing until you can’t make the minimum payment anymore. But, I guess that’s not much of a concern when you the one getting the goodies and not the one paying the bills.

  • Ellman48

    “It was gutted despite the reality that in the four years following its
    passage, welfare caseloads and childhood hunger numbers were cut nearly
    in half, even as employment surged, and poverty among single mothers and
    black Americans dropped to historic lows.”

    It was gutted because declining poverty levels and employment surges to NOT help progressive Democrats win political office. Rising poverty levels and extended unemployment benefits do benefit Democrats. Democrats WANT people to be dependent on government and to be less dependent on themselves and the opportunities provided in the free market economy. Their motivations and intentions are too obvious to be mistaken by anyone with enough common sense and valid information.

  • Ellman48

    Obama takes care of the rich through the Federal Reserve and the poor through welfare. The one group he could care less about, although he mentions them in his speeches all the time, is the ‘middle class’ which ends up with less disposable income every year and more taxes to pay because the rich know how to avoid taxes and the ‘poor’ have been exempted from paying them. So both the rich and the poor ride on the backs of the middle class but that latter seems to be do docile or preoccupied with getting by to care about being raped by the government.

  • nomoretraitors

    To put it in simple terms: It’s moving the goal posts.
    And why would the left want to eliminate poverty? It’s BIG BUSINESS