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On poverty: Success or failure?

Jeff Brown Contributing Columnist

February 4, 2014

This month is the 50th anniversary on the War on Poverty which was passed by legislation in 1964 by Congress, and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.


Since then we’ve spent over $20 trillion on the various programs that address those in poverty! That is a massive amount of your taxpayer dollars which exceeds our total national debt and addresses millions of people living in poverty in our country. On both account,s my title for this article of “War on Poverty: Success or Failure?” needs to be addressed.


To assist with this article, I have taken an article by Paul Krugman which appeared in the New York Times on Jan. 9, titled “The War Over Poverty” representing the liberal point of view. Representing the conservative side is an article which appeared in FoxNews.com on Jan. 10, titled “Why we continue to lose the War on Poverty” by Lee Ohanian. Both are PhD economists so park your biases and read on since this subject is of huge significance.


Ohanian says, “The reason the War on Poverty has not been won is because too many Americans are not able to economically succeed without permanent and substantial government assistance.” He goes on to say, “In the absence of policy reforms that change the incentive to work, improve worker skills, and create new businesses, we will continue to lose the War on Poverty and watch future generations of poor Americans never realize their true economic potential.”


Krugman says, “For one thing, the war on poverty has, in fact, achieved quite a lot. It’s true that the standard measure of poverty hasn’t fallen much. But this measure doesn’t include the value of crucial public programs like food stamps and the earned-income tax credit. Once these programs are taken into account, the data show a significant decline in poverty and a much larger decline in extreme poverty. Other evidence also points to a big improvement in the lives of America’s poor: lower-income Americans are much healthier and better-nourished than they were in the 1960s.”


Both make some valid point,s but the problem is morally the War on Poverty continues to doom millions to poverty, removes motivation to realize the “great American dream” and it is unaffordable as evidenced by our $17 trillion national debt and untold trillions that will be necessary ongoing for all levels of government to sustain what we now have in place. More disturbing is that neither recognizes that “Marriage is America’s most effective anti program” quoting from www.marriageweekUSA.org and neither recognizes the role the churches should play.


In this article I will conclude with more about marriage. Future articles will address the need to provide work for all but the most disabled, more about what churches can do and how to improve the education of those in poverty such as the Career Academy being started in LaGrange.


The Brookings Institute says poverty rates would be 25 percent lower if marriage rates today were the same as they were in 1970. The Heritage Foundation says that being married drops the probability of a child living in poverty by 82 percent! However, the marriage rate has declined by almost 60 percent for those in poverty since the War on Poverty was launched and the percentage of out of wedlock children has sky rocketed for those in poverty since the beginning of the War on Poverty. I see living proof of the devastating effect of fatherless households every week at First Presbyterian Church where anyone with a problem is welcome to share that problem.


If you share my conviction that the War on Poverty isn’t working and that the most provable cause is the breakdown of marriage, then I suggest you learn more about why “marriage is America’s most effective anti poverty program.” Then discover programs that are working that you could join or launch. If you are a person of faith push for programs your church could launch. I have one suggestion in that regard, which is to quickly sign up your church for National Marriage Week USA (see above link), which is Feb. 7-14. Time is short, but it’s a start. I also encourage you to look at what we are doing with our Wednesday morning meetings to see if your church might try something similar. Contact me at jeffwarnerbrown@gmail.com for more information.


We have launched programs that have changed the public’s thinking on recycling, smoking, exercise, and healthy eating. By contacting your elected officials push local, state and federal governments to get behind an even more important effort which is to change the public’s perception of the importance of marriage for all families and especially for those in poverty.