Yesterday, on the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. sident Johnson’s declaration of war on poverty, Michele Bachmann tweeted “50 years and $20 trillion later, the ‘War on Poverty’ did not accomplish its goals,’” and then followed by linking a manifesto about the so-called liberal failure that is the “War on Poverty.” Bachmann said after Johnson’s declaration, “What followed was five decades of government expansion and spending on new programs that have largely been ineffective.”
Five years after Johnson’s address, the administration had reduced poverty by 30 percent as many different strategies were successfully implemented. The first plan was to simply give more money to the poor. The 10 percent decrease, from 35 to 25 percent, of impoverish elderly from 1959 to 1968 was largely due to the administration expanding Social Security benefits in 1965 and 1967.
Johnson made education one of his administration’s focal points.. The Head Start program gave underprivileged children access to the same educational, social, and medical opportunities as more privileged ones. The administration also created Adult Basic Education to rectify adult illiteracy with basic educational skills to increase their marketability on the job market.
The preceding examples are but the tip of the iceberg of programs that the Johnson administration launched to fight poverty. So why is Bachmann insisting that the War on Poverty was an outright failure? Either Bachmann drastically underestimates the damage that GOP policies have inflicted on the poor and middle class or she is just completely unaware of her own party’s perpetuation of poverty. The latter seems more promising.
The theory of trickle-down economics was a major killer of the War on Poverty. Staunchly implemented during the Reagan administration, trickle-down economics gave tax breaks to the wealthy and was sold under the guise that those savings would be passed on to the poor. But all the policy did was throw a heavier tax burden on the backs of the poor, which perpetuated poverty and widened wage disparity.
Trickle-down economics mastermind, former Reagan budget director and Republican Rep. David Stockman (R-MI) admitted that the policy was a “Trojan Horse” to approve tax cuts for the wealthy. Before trickle-down was introduced, earnings remained mostly stable. However, income inequality increased and has continued to do so ever since the trickle-down economics policy was placed.
“It’s kind of hard to sell ‘trickle down,’ so the supply-side formula was the only way to get a tax policy that was really ‘trickle-down.’ Supply-side is ‘trickle-down’ theory,” confessed Stockman.
States where Bachmann’s party has control is strongly correlated with poverty. The five most impoverished states are Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia, all of which voted for Romney in the 2012 elections. The national poverty rate hovers around 15 percent. In Mississippi, the poverty rate is 21 percent and the state’s median annual income is just over $36,000, the lowest in the country.
Even today, Republicans are engaged in a War on the Poor, dismantling policies designed to help. According to the Center for American Progress, 1.5 million military veterans risk homelessness because of poverty and 30 percent of veterans up to age 24 were unemployed as of 2011. Despite millions of impoverished veterans, GOP lawmakers fought against government support of veterans.
When House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) motioned to cut future retirement pensions for retired military veterans. He was bombarded with opposition from constituencies.
“I never want to see your face again and hope we can get you out of office quickly,” said retired Air Force veteran Paula Flores. “Faking to care about your fellow Americans and backstabbing the very people who give you your freedom. You make me question what I ever fought for and why I sacrificed my life and time away from my family.”
Inflation has dramatically outpaced minimum wage. Presently, minimum wage is worth less than what it did in 1968. In 1968, minimum wage was enough income to support a family of three above the poverty line. Now, minimum wage can barely support a family of two people. Democratic lawmakers on the state and federal levels have been pushing to increase the minimum wage to offset American poverty. But the GOP is fighting this legislation as well.
Increased minimum wage would ripple outward to decrease worker turnover which would increase company savings on training expenses. Not to mention, consumers would enjoy increased buying power.
There have been so many attempts to decrease American poverty, but it seems that each one has been interrupted by Republicans. Yes, the War on Poverty has cost trillions of dollars and there 10 million more impoverished people now than when it started, but it cannot be blamed on liberal incompetence, as Bachmann unfoundedly seems to believe.
But she is right about one thing – The War on Poverty failed. But only because her party is fighting for the wrong side.