US Poverty Rate – How the Great Society Programs Reversed its Decline

poverty-rate-historical

It is notable that in post World War 2 America, the poverty rate was declining constantly every year, until in 1973 it hit a level of just below 8.8% from where it has since then bounced back to now around 11% and rising.

How can this be explained?

Well, one way to approach this is the following: What do you expect would happen if the government started to enact new major welfare programs that would affect families across the board? Of course: the programs would keep the recipients in poverty, rather than motivating them to lift themselves out, and, as a tendency, produce a lasting underclass of dependents.

Is there evidence that an unusually high number of such programs was introduced in the US shortly before 1973? I believe that there clearly is, the Great Society programs:

Civil Rights

(…)The Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade job discrimination and the segregation of public accommodations. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 assured minority registration and voting. It suspended use of literacy or other voter-qualification tests that had sometimes served to keep African-Americans off voting lists and provided for federal court lawsuits to stop discriminatory poll taxes. It also reinforced the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by authorizing the appointment of federal voting examiners in areas that did not meet voter-participation requirements. The Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965 abolished the national-origin quotas in immigration law. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 banned housing discrimination and extended constitutional protections to Native Americans on reservations.

War on Poverty

The centerpiece of the War on Poverty was the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which created an Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) to oversee a variety of community-based antipoverty programs. The OEO reflected a fragile consensus among policymakers that the best way to deal with poverty was not simply to raise the incomes of the poor but to help them better themselves through education, job training, and community development. Central to its mission was the idea of “community action”, the participation of the poor in framing and administering the programs designed to help them.

Education

The most important educational component of the Great Society was the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, designed by Commissioner of Education Francis Keppel. It was signed into law on April 11, 1965, less than three months after it was introduced. It ended a long-standing political taboo by providing significant federal aid to public education, initially allotting more than $1 billion to help schools purchase materials and start special education programs to schools with a high concentration of low-income children. The Act established Head Start, which had originally been started by the Office of Economic Opportunity as an eight-week summer program, as a permanent program.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 increased federal money given to universities, created scholarships and low-interest loans for students, and established a national Teacher Corps to provide teachers to poverty-stricken areas of the United States. The Act also began a transition from federally funded institutional assistance to individual student aid.

The Bilingual Education Act of 1968 offered federal aid to local school districts in assisting them to address the needs of children with limited English-speaking ability until it expired in 2002.

Health

Medicare

The Social Security Act of 1965 authorized Medicare and provided federal funding for many of the medical costs of older Americans. The legislation overcame the bitter resistance, particularly from the American Medical Association, to the idea of publicly funded health care or “socialized medicine” by making its benefits available to everyone over sixty-five, regardless of need, and by linking payments to the existing private insurance system.

Medicaid

In 1966 welfare recipients of all ages received medical care through the Medicaid program. Medicaid was created on July 30, 1965 under Title XIX of the Social Security Act. Each state administers its own Medicaid program while the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) monitors the state-run programs and establishes requirements for service delivery, quality, funding, and eligibility standards.

Other Great society programs that I will not include in detail here:

  • National endowments for arts and humanities
  • Public broadcasting
  • Cultural centers
  • Transportation
  • Consumer protection

I think it is at the very least fair to say that evidence exists to corroborate our (actually rather unsurprising) theory that government welfare programs are not introduced by bureaucrats in order to end poverty, but rather to make sure it remains at a level that allows them to justify the existence of government programs intended to battle poverty with money that of course in the end mostly ends up in the hands of the bureaucrats themselves, not the poor, as I outlined before.

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