The War on Poverty can’t overcome the demise of the family

24 Feb

Good book review in the WSJ today:

No one today seriously questions the wisdom of the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act. But consider the Great Society’s record on poverty. From 1959 to 1966, the number of Americans living below the poverty line had fallen to 14.7% from 22.4%—without the benefit of the Great Society. Since then, the poverty rate has remained stubbornly above 11%. As Nicholas Eberstadt has noted, in 2012 (the year with the latest available data), it was at 15%—slighter above the 1966 rate.

Consider also the War on Poverty’s effects, like welfare dependency. In 1983, one in five Americans belonged to a family receiving means-tested federal benefits like food stamps or Head Start (in other words, not Social Security or Medicare); in 2012 the number had risen to one in three. Family life suffered related changes, as Uncle Sam steadily replaced parents as a family’s principal breadwinner and the number of reasons to remain married—or get married—dwindled away. The Great Society and the War on Poverty helped set off an explosion of out-of-wedlock births. That is one reason why the poverty rate for children today is higher than before the mid-1960s—and why more than half of black children (about whom Johnson expressed so much concern) live with only their mother and why nearly half of those children live below the poverty line.

Read it all

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