It has been 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty and implemented federal programs to combat poverty in the United States. Over the years, these programs have been successful in helping many Americans survive below the poverty line. These programs have also been instrumental in lowering the percentage of Americans who are living below the poverty line.
With the proposed funding and budget cuts stemming from House Republicans, it is likely that more people will fall into and stay below the poverty line. It is likely that a poverty trap, which Ryan is working to eliminate, will be created if funding for social programs aimed at helping low-income individuals and families is cut.
The social programs that began with President Johnson have done, and are continuing to do, their part in lowering the poverty rate in the United States.
According to the Census Bureau, the official poverty rate has been reduced from 19% in 1964 to 15% in 2012. Republicans feel that this is only a modest number and that the poverty rate has become worse over the past several years. Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Budget Committee Chairman, and other Conservative members of the House believe that these programs have hindered rather than helped the American people.
“There are nearly 100 programs at the federal level that are meant to help, but they have actually created a poverty trap,” said Ryan.
The Budget Committee’s proposal to restructure Welfare and many other social programs is detailed in the 204-page report which was released on March 3rd. While trying to show the shortcomings and the need to reorganize, or even cut social programs, this report actually shows that several programs are, indeed, helpful to those living in poverty. Several of these programs positively affect children and the elderly in nutritional, educational, and medical ways.
Pew Research states that a team of researchers from Columbia University calculated an “anchored” supplemental measure that adjusts for inflation. Based on these calculations, poverty affects far fewer individuals and families than what Republicans estimate, with the rate falling from 26% in 1967 to 16% in 2012.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research organization, echoes this sentiment. The center indicates that without federal assistance, more Americans would probably be living in poverty.
It is clear, even in the War on Poverty report, that social programs directed at helping those who are living in poverty are working.
Meg is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.