How to fight poverty

President Johnson declared war on poverty fifty years ago. Poverty won. How did such a noble crusade fail? The most important reasons were culture and behavior. Many of the tools designed to fight poverty took a shallow and static view. They didn’t account for what now seems obvious - that the policies themselves would alter behaviors and habits.

Johnson's goal was not simple to give the poor money, but to create the conditions where the poor could help themselves. This made sense. Nobody wants to encourage permanent dependency. The problem is that some people do not respond well to opportunity. In some ways, the war on poverty suffered because of general economic growth as well as earlier success in programs coming out of the New Deal and other progressive programs. These programs in many ways had soaked up many of the "worthy poor", i.e. poor people held down by external obstacles. People need to be ready to take opportunities.

We see the difference in the phenomenal success of some immigrants and failure of others. Some people arrive poor to the U.S., but their poverty resulted from oppression in their benighted countries, not bad habits. Remove the weight of oppression and they do well. But if your poverty results from bad behaviors and habits, opportunity does little.

The Atlantic has a good article about factors that go into upward mobility. On the macro side, things that seem to matter most are three. The general economic growth of the community is a big positive. Local government spending is a mild positive. The big negative is single parent hood.

This single parenthood problem is one of the failings of the war on poverty. Some of the policies encouraged single parenthood. The gains of providing help to single parents may be offset and maybe overcome if she is encouraged to have more kids out of marriage.

Our goal should not be making the poor more comfortable in poverty, but rather helping them stop being poor and turn them into productive citizens.

One more thing about poverty - it isn't all about money. I have met people w/o much money who were not poor and people with decent income who were poor. That is because habits and behaviors matter. It goes for being rich too. Some people are not rich; they just have money. The key is having the capacity, the human capital which includes education, habits and behaviors, needed to produce wealth. And there is the moral angle. If you are poor but have integrity, it is better than being rich and craven. Of course, poor people with integrity rarely stay poor very long.

Posted by Christine & John at January 8, 2014 7:42 PM
Comments
Comment #375494

CJ,
“President Johnson declared war on poverty fifty years ago. Poverty won.”

Completely false. During the late 1950’s, the poverty rate was over 22%. By 1973, it dropped to 12%. The rate began increasing again under Reagan, but even during economic downturns such as the most recent one, it has remained at 15% or lower.

There is a far more important factor than economic growth (which since the successful war on poverty has bounced between 12 - 15% as the economy waxed & waned), a far more important factor than local government, a far more important one than even single parenthood (which is admittedly a bigger problem).

Perhaps the most important single factor is Social Security. Thanks to SSI, few seniors live in poverty. Without it, most would live below the poverty line.

Very few people are “comfortable in poverty.” It is one of the myths among conservatives that helping the poor reduces them to dependency. It fundamentally disrespects American character and nature, and results in exactly what we see among conservatives today: an intense dislike of the poor, dismissal of them as “takers,” especially women, blacks, Hispanics, and others.

Posted by: phx8 at January 8, 2014 11:12 PM
Comment #375496

phx8, it’s really hard to take you seriously sometimes…

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/50/Number_in_Poverty_and_Poverty_Rate_1959_to_2011._United_States..PNG is the poverty rate, 1959 to 2011.

You see that the drop from 22% to under 15% happened BEFORE the war on poverty started. Since then, it has remained mostly the same, rising to a high of 15% in 1981/1982 and then dropped during Reagan’s presidency, rose again under Bush Sr, dropped again under Clinton and then rose again after 9/11. But it hasn’t topped the 15% high until under Obama…

Perhaps the most important single factor is Social Security.

Again, it was at it’s HIGH of 22% in 1959, long after SSI was enacted… :/ Your reasoning doesn’t really add up to the real numbers here.

Posted by: Rhinehold at January 8, 2014 11:45 PM
Comment #375497
today, 15 percent of Americans still live in poverty. That’s scarcely better than the 19 percent living in poverty at the time of Johnson’s speech. Nearly 22 percent of children live in poverty today. In 1964, it was 23 percent. How could we have spent so much and achieved so little?

19% at the time of the speech, by the time any legislation was enacted it was around 17/16%.

We’ve spent 15 trillion dollars on anti-poverty programs, this year it was around 750 billion… That’s over 2500 per person in the US.

Posted by: Rhinehold at January 9, 2014 12:12 AM
Comment #375498

“We’ve spent 15 trillion dollars on anti-poverty programs, this year it was around 750 billion…”

Good. That is precisely what we should be doing. That is money well spent. If only we did more… Well, thank you for the encouraging statistic. By virtually any measure, we rank far behind the socialist democracies of Europe. It would make sense to take a page from their book and see if we can’t do right by ourselves.

Countries like Germany have socialized health care, more vacation days, they live longer, are happier, and have lower infant mortality. They extend unemployment compensation longer, export fewer jobs, and are heavily unionized. And they are every bit as free as Americans.

Posted by: phx8 at January 9, 2014 12:27 AM
Comment #375500

I was writing up an article about this, but since there is already one, I’ll provide a few personal insights.

I’ve worked (for free) as a mentor to underprivileged people who want to better themselves. That’s the key though, they really have to want to, trying to make them is impossible. When I talk to people who should be trying to improve their station, they are always blaming someone else for where they are. In reality, it is very seldom someone else’s fault. And it is never someone else’s fault that they are still there. Of course, it’s hard to surmount that depression/feeling of failure that accompanies slipping into poverty. People turn often to outlets for that state in ways that do more harm than good, keeping them there instead of raising them up. But the immediate relief is immediate, the hard work doesn’t show results until later on. It’s kind of like dieting…

I had a friend and roommate that had their car break down. They were unable to get back and forth to work, so I volunteered and drove him to work and pick him up, even though it was a different shift than I worked. This went on for about a month and he was barely able to make ends meet, sometimes paying his rent (my other roommate and myself picked up the slack). One day he took some of his Magic:The Gathering cards (he was an avid gamer and had gotten into the game at it’s beginning, having many rare alpha cards) to a dealer and sold some of them for $1,500. The dealer told him he couldn’t take any more at that time, but to come back in 3 months and he would possibly buy some more. This was good news, I told him that this was great, he could get a good used car and stop being reliant on others, he said ‘no, what it means is that I don’t have to work for 3 months’. He stretched out that money for 3 months, not working and then went back to the dealer. By this time the market had changed and the dealer told him he wasn’t buying any more cards right then. He was left with no job, no car and nothing to live on. He eventually was able to get his old job back. Needless to day, I didn’t reward this by driving him back and forth to work anymore, he had to con

Another girl I knew had 5 kids, all from the same man. She was still dating him even though she didn’t live with him (though he stayed at her house almost every night). She was collecting assistance for the kids. I let he know that I could help her find a job and she asked me why should should do that? See, she was being paid by the state to stay home with her kids and her boyfriend was helping with all the other expenses, why should she take time away from her children to get a job when she didn’t have to? It didn’t dawn on her that people like myself were doing without as much as we could be to better our own lives because we were paying for her to stay at home and let her boyfriend be there to have an arguably better life than I had at the time. It was the faceless ‘state’ that was taking care of her…

Another friend, I did drive to work for nearly six months, she worked early 1st shift, I worked 2nd. I had to get up early in the morning and drive her to work and then pick her up and take her home on my way into work myself. And I did it gladly because she WAS trying to make something of her life. She eventually got her own car, continued working while raising 3 children she had before, never taking assistance from the state and made a pretty good life for herself. She is now happily married and living in another state, her children good respectable men (despite the fathers that they had), married with children of their own and doing very well. Because she WANTED to make something of her life.

I have a lot of these stories. I’ve been homeless myself when I was 18. I was kicked out of my shared apartment with 3 other college roommates because one of them thought I was sleeping with his ex girlfriend (I wasn’t). I had to live in my car for a few weeks, catching occasional bunking/showering with other friends and worked to find a new place to live. I could have ‘given up’ and crawled into a bottle, but I chose not to. It was not how I was raised, it wasn’t how I saw the world. So when I say I mentor these people, I can do so from experience…

I think that people should be mentoring rather than giving money. Helping out is good temporarily, but if it doesn’t come with a desire by the individual to better themselves and someone mentoring them on how to do that, it is just wasted money…

I had an idea that I thought might help the situation… There are just going to be people who choose to be dependant and really otherwise just don’t care. Take care of them, they are fine… So, why not legislate another class of citizenship for them? It lasts 4 years, if you choose it, the state takes care of you and your needs to live a humble life, in exchange you can’t do certain things and can’t vote. Trust me, a lot of those people would accept this as they usually don’t vote anyway, unless told to by someone scaring them that they aren’t going to get their government checks. At the end of their 4 year period, if they want to opt back into the voting class, they are welcome to do so. If they want to stay there, they can. I don’t particularly LIKE this solution, but it is a much better one than we have…

I heard another good one tonight that I found some merit too. Many people say that they can’t get off assistance because once they cross a threshold, all aid stops. So, do this. For every dollar that they get from non-governmental sources, they get their government assistance cut by .50. This way they have an incentive to make money on their own while they are being helped and eventually will find that they are making enough to no longer need or want the assistance… Just a thought, I am trying to find some flaw with this proposal but since I just heard it tonight I am going to have to take some time to think it through… thoughts?

Posted by: Rhinehold at January 9, 2014 12:41 AM
Comment #375501

Rhinehold-
Many antipoverty programs have a better than even return on investment. The money doesn’t just disappear, it creates additional economic activity. Being poor as a nation discourages economic growth. I don’t know why the GOP and the Libertarians like to squeeze blood from stones, besides their overly theoretical idea of the importance of competition in economics.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 9, 2014 12:42 AM
Comment #375502
That is precisely what we should be doing.

It is? Why? Is that a statement backed up by some kind of facts or logic, or just a faith-based opinion? It’s ok if it is faith-based, but just admit it…

If only we did more…

Why not just give everyone in the US 25,000? That would solve the problem, wouldn’t it? If we don’t have, we can just print that money up, right?

By virtually any measure, we rank far behind the socialist democracies of Europe. It would make sense to take a page from their book and see if we can’t do right by ourselves.

Like France where they are literally rioting in the streets and chasing all of their productive citizens out of the country?

http://www.france24.com/en/20131102-french-riot-police-use-tear-gas-anti-tax-protesters/

http://finance.townhall.com/columnists/mikeshedlock/2013/11/05/riots-continue-in-france-and-no-socialists-cant-do-anything-right-n1736924

And they are every bit as free as Americans.

*peer* Do you really know what the word ‘free’ means, phx8? It doesn’t mean that people are free to live their lives as YOU think they should…

You are talking about a country that, by law, prevents its citizens from mentioning the Holocaust or Nazis…

Since the publication of the German Grundgesetz, there have been two kinds of censored media in Germany. The first is material that is considered offensive or indecent; such media are placed on the “Index” and restricted in their publication, and distribution to minors is illegal. The second is material that is considered anti-constitutional, dangerous to the state. The underlying concept is “streitbare Demokratie” (self-defending democracy) that legally hinders the rise of all anti-constitutional and thus undemocratic movements. The media concerned are banned outright, with criminal penalties for infringements. An example is the outright ban on material which supports National Socialism.
Posted by: Rhinehold at January 9, 2014 12:50 AM
Comment #375503
Many antipoverty programs have a better than even return on investment.

The facts to back this up are…?

. The money doesn’t just disappear, it creates additional economic activity.

At the expense of economic activity that was prevented by taking it in the first place…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_window_fallacy

I am not against helping people AT ALL. In fact, I’ve dedicated much of my life to doing so. I am against FORCING people to help others. That is IMO abhorrent. It also supposes that we are helping them in the way that actually works. It most often doesn’t.

Again, Benjamin Franklin’s quote:

“I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”

Posted by: Rhinehold at January 9, 2014 12:53 AM
Comment #375504

Rhinehold,
I admire the mentoring you have done. My wife has done some similar volunteer work with homeless young people. I do not know whether those young people blame themselves or their circumstances, but I have heard stories about their backgrounds, and they would certainly have good reason to blame their circumstances- abuse of every kind from their families, rejection by their families over sexual orientation, various addictions…

But what impresses me is their willingness to work their way off the streets, and into a situation with a roof over their head and a stable job. Most people are not “takers.” But by the same token, most of us go through times when we need help getting by. One of the fundamental purposes of living together in a society is just that- to help each other get through the rough times.

Government- working together- enables us to do that. “We the People” make decisions about how to go about this through a democratic process. We vote.

Finally, there are those among us who no amount of training or mentoring will help- the mentally ill, those with terrible physical handicaps, retardation, or other disabilities which make it impossible for them to take care of themselves. They will always live in poverty. Most of us would agree that we have a moral obligation, as a society, to band together and look after the neediest and most misfortunate among us through the agency of government.

Taking care of such people is not profitable. It will never, ever be profitable. Nevertheless, it is the right thing to do.

Posted by: phx8 at January 9, 2014 1:11 AM
Comment #375506
One of the fundamental purposes of living together in a society is just that- to help each other get through the rough times.

Of course it is, we should all be working toward that goal… If we choose to.

Government- working together- enables us to do that.

No, government is not working together, it is forcing those who choose not to to do so by force.

“We the People” make decisions about how to go about this through a democratic process.

We can do this without government, we can create a non-governmental agency and everyone who is a member of the organization can choose to vote.

But what you are doing when you vote is not choosing what you want to do to help. What you are doing is forcing those who disagree with you to help the way you want them to help. That’s the part you don’t see. You don’t see the force in the system that exists.

Most of us would agree that we have a moral obligation, as a society, to band together and look after the neediest and most misfortunate among us

Agreed.

through the agency of government.

Disagreed.

Taking care of such people is not profitable. It will never, ever be profitable. Nevertheless, it is the right thing to do.

Yes it is. Doing it by force is not.

When you vote on what to do to help someone, you are not choosing what YOU want to do, or you would just do it. You are choosing what you want SOMEONE ELSE to do. That’s just a simple fact.

Take the woman I was talking about with the 3 children and who was working. Now, she’s just gotten out of poverty and is no longer on assistance. However, a tragedy occurs. Her son needs some emergency medical work done. She could pay for that dental work if she wasn’t being taxed as much as she was. If the help she was giving was voluntary, she could back off on the assistance for 3 months and take care of her own family, then resume helping others when this crisis was over. But since BY LAW we would take her to jail if she didn’t, we are putting her back into possibly needing to go on assistance herself again for a period of time.

Do you see the issue here? We are helping but we aren’t helping smartly and we aren’t allowing people to choose when and how to help based off of their own situations in life, the ups and downs that life throws at us. Instead, we are arbitrarily taking money from her to help others and making it harder on her to live her life in those down times.

$2500 per person is what we spend on anti-poverty aid… Do you think she could better use that $2500? That she would be able to help herself with that and give when she had it available to give?

What gives you the right to tell her how she takes care of her family and her community when you don’t even know her?

What kind of hubris is that?

Posted by: Rhinehold at January 9, 2014 1:24 AM
Comment #375512

Very humorous quote by Harry Reid (which is where I am guessing that Stephen got his inane idea that unemployment benefits are a ‘net positive’…

“That’s why every dollar we spend on unemployment benefits, I repeat, the economy grows by $1.50.”

That’s a freakin’ great deal, why aren’t we going on ill with this? I mean, let’s up the benefits and put everything on black, as it were? It would likely solve the deficit problem overnight!

While we are at it we can increase the minimum wage to $40 an hour and end poverty completely right now.

Posted by: Rhinehold at January 9, 2014 11:07 AM
Comment #375513

And phx8 tells us how European countries are just as free as Americans, despite the gross violation of free speech by the German government. Without even trying (it just fell into my lap this morning) I see that England isn’t doing so well in that area either.

The British House of Lords, the U.K. Parliament’s upper unelected chamber, has voted in favor of amending a clause in a bill that as written would allow anyone in England and Wales engaging in or threatening to engage in “conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person” to face an injunction. According to the BBC, the Home Office “has said the new injunctions would never be imposed in an unreasonable way.”

The campaign group Reform Clause 1, named after the worrying clause in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, claims that if implemented Clause 1 of the bill “could have a chilling effect on free speech.” The group rightly highlights the fact that numerous groups and people could be considered to be “causing nuisance or annoyance,” such as carol singers, Scientologists, political protesters, and soccer players.

The injunctions outlined in the bill would replace Anti-Social Behavior Orders (ASBOs) which, despite their name, are not handed down to people who don’t like socializing. Rather, they can be imposed on people who display “drunken or threatening behaviour,” carry out vandalism, or “playing loud music at night.” Unsurprisingly, ASBOs have been used on a wide range of people, as George Monbiot explained in The Guardian a few days before today’s vote:

Asbos have been granted which forbid the carrying of condoms by a prostitute, homeless alcoholics from possessing alcohol in a public place, a soup kitchen from giving food to the poor, a young man from walking down any road other than his own, children from playing football in the street. They were used to ban peaceful protests against the Olympic clearances.

Monbiot went on to point out that the injunctions would come with potentially lifelong obligations attached:

The bill would permit injunctions against anyone of 10 or older who “has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”. It would replace asbos with ipnas (injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance), which would not only forbid certain forms of behaviour, but also force the recipient to discharge positive obligations. In other words, they can impose a kind of community service order on people who have committed no crime, which could, the law proposes, remain in force for the rest of their lives.
Posted by: Rhinehold at January 9, 2014 11:17 AM
Comment #375526

Thank you Daugherty for writing; “Many antipoverty programs have a better than even return on investment. The money doesn’t just disappear, it creates additional economic activity.”

This in a nutshell is the liberal/socialist belief about welfare.

The money does indeed disappear from my pocket to the pocket of someone else.

Daugherty appears to believe that government spending a dollar of my money is better for the economy that my spending the dollar myself.

Posted by: Royal Flush at January 9, 2014 2:22 PM
Comment #375529

As it turns out the reason for failure was the poor themselves. They didn’t apply themselves to millionaire-hood like they were supposed to. I’l bet Ladybird is flippin’ around in her grave.

DUDE, IT’S POLITICO SHLOCK!!! 50 YEAR OLD POLI-HAMBURGER—why bring this up. REAGAN HAD ONE TOO—HOW’D THAT GO 1985!

YOU ARE DUMB FOR DISCUSSING THIS—ALL POLITICIANS LEFT AND RIGHT HAVE A SO-CALLED WAR ON MOST THINGS! GRAPPLE BEYOND THIS-UN.

Posted by: simpleheaded at January 9, 2014 3:21 PM
Comment #375536

Phx8 & Rhinhold

Re disrespecting the poor - on the contrary. I want to treat the poor as responsible adults. You are the one assuming that they need government help now and forever.

Re timing and results - Rhinhold explained. I will add a little.

For Phx8 - You are a successful investor. Surely you understand time, cause and effect. When Johnson declared war on poverty, the poverty rate was around 15%. Indeed you are correct that it was higher in the late 1950s, but the trend BEFORE the war on poverty was MORE rapidly down. Indeed, it had dropped by around 7% in the six years from 1959 to 1965, again BEFORE the war on poverty. It dropped another 3% in the six years between 1966 to 1972. In other words, the trend continued, but at a slower rate. It went up a little and then flattened out in the 1970s and went back almost to1965 levels in the 1980s. Today it is almost exactly where it was in 1965.

Re Reagan – poverty rates went up in the early part of his presidency and then down again. By Reagan’s sixth year, they were lower than in Obama’s sixth year.

Posted by: CJ at January 9, 2014 6:48 PM
Comment #375537

Stephen

RE - “I don’t know why the GOP and the Libertarians like to squeeze blood from stones”

I am proposing nothing of the sort. I am looking for the origins of poverty and the leverage points to help people get out of it.

Clearly, the war on poverty did not work. Johnson declared war on poverty in 1965 and we spent fortunes since then. In 1965, the poverty rate was around 15%. Fifty years later, the Obama poverty rate is almost the same. You might expect some results after fifty years.

Let’s look at what DOES work. What works is recognizing that behavior and habits are what creates poverty and disorder. If throwing money at the problem was sufficient, we would have succeeded by now.

Posted by: CJ at January 9, 2014 6:54 PM
Comment #375538

When a nation subsidizes their poor at a level of comfort it will always have poor in great numbers. There is no incentive to rise above the poverty level for many people as they are in their comfort zone and wish to remain there.

I read today that due to their oil wealth the 5 million plus citizens of Norway are all millionaires on paper. Yet, they still work…go figure.

Posted by: Royal Flush at January 9, 2014 7:07 PM
Comment #375540

Royal

I lived in Norway for four years and got to know something about the place. Norwegians have lived in that place since the end of the last ice age. They are truly indigenous. In that time they developed traditions and a cohesive society. People do what they are supposed to do. They are the world’s most honest people. That is why the welfare state sort of worked there. They work when they can and do not cheat. It is like living in a very large small town.

Things are changing. When I got there in 1988, not really that long ago, they still sometimes moved money on the bus. They would give a bag of money to the driver and ask him to drop it off at the next bank. Nobody stole it until they got Gypsy immigrants who noticed that they could just grab the money and run. This surprised the Norwegians who asked the poignant question, “why would they take it? It is not their money.” As more different people move in, the place is changing. But evidently that working culture persists.

BTW - their welfare state was always different from ours. It has that component of responsibility based on long experience with each other. But the emphasis on equality can be stiffing. C grew up in a small town in western Wisconsin, mostly Norwegian Americans. It was similar. People were not supposed to stand out. On the plus side, people did not complain and they took care of themselves. On the minus side, being different was a problem.

Posted by: CJ at January 9, 2014 7:22 PM
Comment #375541

C/J, thanks for sharing the Norway info. The point is, with all that wealth, they still work.

Posted by: Royal Flush at January 9, 2014 7:36 PM
Comment #375542

Royal

I think this goes to the original point re habits and behaviors. People who like the Nordic bigger government societies almost always fail to understand that the culture is very different. Norwegians are different. They don’t go in for that in-your-face attitude that is too common among American welfare recipients.

Posted by: CJ at January 9, 2014 7:50 PM
Comment #375627

Rhinehold said: “No, government is not working together, it is forcing those who choose not to to do so by force.”

It is called laws, Rhinehold. There are Americans who oppose every law on the books including laws against rape and murder. But, just because some minority objects to a law, doesn’t make the enforcement of law a bad thing. Many object to taxes, but, taxes give us civilized society via government which enforces the rules for a civilized society. Many, and I include myself here, believe a civilized society takes care of its citizens, through charity where that works, and through government where charity doesn’t, or can’t.

Medicare, Social Security, and Unemployment insurance are all law enactments supported by the majority of Americans. Just because government enforces its laws, does not make an argument against government or government helping citizens.
Your objection above doesn’t make any sense in a democratic republic.

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Comment #375641

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