In this inaugural voyage for Pierce Wire, we are privileged to post guest author contributions from very accomplished individuals, among whom is our 43rd President, George W Bush. You will see a theme around poverty and the importance of education in extricating oneself from the same. There is no crime worse than the silent one that perpetuates the soft bigotry of low expectations. Indeed, we have wandered far off the road envisaged when LBJ ramrodded his Civil Rights Act through Congress. It’s time to understand where we stand.
One of the touchstones of the current administration is that it chooses to label Republicans as the cause of virtually all our current social challenges; poverty, homelessness, lack of education, crime, drugs. To listen to President Obama and his leadership team, the root cause of virtually all that ails our country is a function of Republican cruelty. And the solution is invariably to tax the producers more and have government redistribute those tax revenues to those less fortunate. While this is seemingly altruistic, noble and well-meaning, we have fifty years of evidence that the results of this largesse have been disastrous. So, let’s put emotions and politics aside, and look at the actual data.
Our social challenges in the United States are immense, and it is time to address them pragmatically.
Bill O’Reilly may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but even democrats credit him for his objectivity, persistence, and tenacity when tackling the root causes of poverty, crime, and fatherless children (all inextricably intertwined, by the way) in American society.
“True poverty is being driven by personal behavior, not an unfair economic system,” O’Reilly (has) said, noting that only 6 percent of American babies were born out of wedlock in 1963, compared to 41 percent of American babies now. About 72 percent of African-American babies are born out of wedlock. O’Reilly cites the Heritage Foundation’s findings that single-parent homes are four times more likely to be living in poverty. Children raised by single parents are three times more likely to end up in prison and 50 percent more likely to be poor as adults.
Fifty years later, we’re losing the fight against the ever-encroaching tide of poverty. Fifteen percent of Americans still live in poverty, according to the official census poverty report for 2012, unchanged since the mid-1960s. Liberals argue that we aren’t spending enough money on poverty-fighting programs, but that’s not the problem. In reality, we’re losing the war on poverty because we have forgotten the original goal, as LBJ stated it half a century ago: “to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities.” (See George W Bush on this topic in the Guest Author section of the Pierce Wire website.)
The federal government currently runs more than 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care and targeted social services to poor and low-income Americans. Government spent $916 billion on these programs in 2012 alone, and roughly 100 million Americans received aid from at least one of them, at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient. (That figure doesn’t include Social Security or Medicare benefits.) Federal and state welfare spending, adjusted for inflation, is 16 times greater than it was in 1964. If converted to cash, current means-tested spending is five times the amount needed to eliminate all official poverty in the U.S.
LBJ promised that the war on poverty would be an “investment” that would “return its cost manifold to the entire economy.” But the country has invested $20.7 trillion in 2011 dollars over the past 50 years. What does America have to show for its investment? Apparently, almost nothing: The official poverty rate persists with little improvement.
Not even government, though, can spend $9,000 per recipient a year and have no impact on living standards. And it shows: Current poverty has little resemblance to poverty 50 years ago. According to a variety of government sources, including census data and surveys by federal agencies, the typical American living below the poverty level in 2013 lives in a house or apartment that is in good repair, equipped with air conditioning and cable TV. His home is larger than the home of the average nonpoor French, German or English man. He has a car, multiple color TVs and a DVD player. More than half the poor have computers and a third have wide, flat-screen TVs. The overwhelming majority of poor Americans are not undernourished and did not suffer from hunger for even one day of the previous year.
By that standard, the war on poverty has been a catastrophe. The root “causes” of poverty have not shrunk but expanded as family structure disintegrated and labor-force participation among men dropped. A large segment of the population is now less capable of self-sufficiency than when the war on poverty began.
According to the Heritage Foundation’s analysis, children raised in the growing number of single-parent homes are four times more likely to be living in poverty than children reared by married parents of the same education level. Children who grow up without a father in the home are also more likely to suffer from a broad array of social and behavioral problems. The consequences continue into adulthood: Children raised by single parents are three times more likely to end up in jail and 50% more likely to be poor as adults.” (Robert Rector-WSJ 1/7/14)
It is so easy to promise people something for nothing; and the good Lord knows most people are more than happy to take that which is offered. But we now have fifty (count them, five decades) years of raw data (ie, this is not anecdote, this is real) proving that the hopes and expectations of LBJ’s Civil Rights legislation have not been realized. The principal reason for our failure to largely eradicate poverty (and all of its evil spinoffs) is that the well-meaning law was hijacked by politicians who have spent $21,000,000,000,000 (a lot of zeros) attempting to buy equality of outcome (and votes) rather than drive policies that lead to equality of opportunity. Government cannot create an outcome. Government can only try to create a level playing field for people to achieve their own dreams and thus drive their own outcome.
We have failed so abjectly, so horribly, that it is absurd we even continue to have this debate. We must hit the restart button, and rethink our entire social policy. No matter where you fall on the political path (right, center, or left) this is a topic on which all Americans should be able to unite and work toward pragmatic solutions in the years ahead. It should be clear to all that we have failed LBJ’s vision, and the path we’ve taken is hopelessly off track.
More to Follow