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Government & Politics

The Failed 'War on Poverty' at 50

Paul Ryan looks at the 92 programs and $799 billion spent in 2012 and finds unimpressive results.

Mar. 7, 2014
Program on top of program

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released a 204-page report this week that thoroughly examines the federal government’s long-standing welfare programs. “Fifty years ago,” he says, “President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. Since then, Washington has created dozens of programs and spent trillions of dollars. But few people have stopped to ask, ‘Are they working?’” His report, “The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later,” seeks to answer that question. It stops short of making any new policy proposals, but instead is meant, as Ryan said, to “help start the conversation” on the effectiveness of the government’s welfare efforts. As one might expect, the findings don’t offer much in the way of good news.

There are some 92 programs that make up the “safety net,” totaling $799 billion in spending in 2012. There is “little to no coordination” among programs, but there is plenty of costly duplication. The report goes on to note that Medicaid enrollees are actually in poorer health and use more services than people who have private health insurance plans, or even no insurance at all. Additionally, the food stamp program hasn’t moved the needle in a positive direction for poor families, and Head Start is a failure at preparing low-income kids for school. What we’re left with, then, is a half-century of accumulated debt and untold millions of ruined lives. But at least we know the government “cares.”

Naturally, Ryan’s report came under swift attack from the Left, which always stands ready to defend its entitlement cash cows from that two-headed monster otherwise known as reason and accountability. One media outlet, the Fiscal Times, was so eager to discredit the report that it accused Ryan of mischaracterizing the work of one economist – an economist who told the reporter covering the story that he was fairly represented in the report. Dr. Jeffrey Brown wrote the reporter to clarify the record, but we’re certain his comments won’t be as widely reported as the Fiscal Times’ flat-out falsehood.

Many leftist economists have happily worked the fields for Big Government for years, using their exalted status in academia to squelch any attempt at a debate they would surely lose on the merits. They want to confiscate the money of one group to comfort another group because they see that as a solution to society’s ills. Ryan, speaking at CPAC yesterday, challenged this notion: “That’s what the Left just doesn’t understand. People don’t just want a life of comfort; they want a life of dignity – of self-determination. … The party that speaks to that desire, that tries to make it concrete and real, that’s the party that will win in November.” Here’s hoping his GOP cohorts hear that message.

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