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Column: War on Poverty progress its own biggest enemy?




This year marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the War on Poverty. That is true at least in terms of its enacting legislation, with spending expanded a bit under Lyndon Johnson and especially under Richard Nixon.

One of the first observations to make is that progress against measured poverty stopped once the War on Poverty began. (The poverty rate has fluctuated between 11 and 15 percent during the last 50 years.) With economic growth, poverty was decreasing rapidly post-1945. A rising tide was, not surprisingly, lifting most boats. Once the war on poverty began, however, progress stopped. Why?

If we use lame statistics and analysis, the War on Poverty stands easily condemned. Poverty falls; the war begins; poverty quits falling; thus, the war is a failure. If we move to more sophisticated analysis, though, the answers are more complex, interesting — and realistic.

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