We must change strategy to fight the War on Poverty


Afghanistan is not, as the media calls it, “America’s longest war.” In reality, that is the government’s “War on Poverty.”

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan bluntly said, “poverty won.”

After 50 years, we’re still losing the War on Poverty.

The percentage of people living in poverty isn’t much different from when President Lyndon Johnson committed us to this war. Right now, over 50 million people— 15 percent of Americans— are living in poverty or dependent on some form of government handouts.

It’s not that government never helped anyone rise out of poverty, but chronic mismanagement and depressing results are nothing to celebrate.

Leave it to the Obama Administration and its supporters to ignore the faults and embrace the War on Poverty. As the war enters its fifth decade, liberals want to double-down and grow the government to even greater proportions.

Rather than eradicating poverty, the government has subsidized and desensitized America to it. The government has robbed people of dignity and pride. It has created, encouraged and nurtured dependency and a sense of entitlement among aid recipients.

Reagan noted, “Poverty won in part because instead of helping the poor, government programs ruptured the bonds holding poor families together.” It created an underclass comfortable with its poverty. This is immoral.

The disastrous effects of government’s subsidization of poverty is recognizable across racial lines. It deserves much of the blame for the dissolution of the black family and rendering the black male irrelevant as both a husband and father in the eyes of many.

Generations have been born into broken families. Communities are ruled by social, moral and economic chaos. Many are solely dependent on government aid for their very livelihoods.

Out-of-wedlock births in the decades leading up to Johnson’s declaration of war on poverty affected around 25 percent of all non-white women in 1964. Only approximately 17 percent of black households were headed by a single parent in 1950.

Now government aid programs created by the War on Poverty can be blamed for helping single-parent families rise to around 72 percent of all black families in 2012. Why does a woman need a husband when the government can be her baby’s daddy?

Why has this been allowed to happen?

In many ways, poverty became a tool to justify wealth redistribution. This is a passive admission by its proponents that the poor aren’t particularly useful outside of their political value.

Transforming the poor into political pawns as part of a larger game to remake society is simply immoral. While the War on Poverty might have been originally sold and continues to be maintained on good intentions, it nonetheless must be judged on its results. And it’s clear that the effort has failed.

Materially, the impoverished are better off than they were 50 years ago. The poor now don’t necessarily lack shelter and transportation— or even cable television and smartphones. But the poverty rate still remains high after half a century. And I dare say that the mindset created by the resulting generational dependence of some on welfare assistance has had a devastating psychological effect on America.

Our nation will continue to lose this war on poverty until courageous leaders are willing to take the necessary steps to institute real reforms to the welfare state such as a welfare-to-work requirement. Bloat, redundancy and abuse must be eliminated as well. States and localities more aware of problems should take point.

There should be more partnerships with social institutions such as churches and community organizations to help inculcate upright character, a strong work ethic and sacrifice and to provide quality education and values to foster more awareness of economic opportunities and to turn people into producers instead of continuous drains on resources.

Those living in poverty must be equipped and empowered to be responsible participants in their own ascendance rather than continuing to cultivate a culture mired in mental and physical dependency.

Jesus said the poor will always be among us. They surely will— but in much larger and unnecessary numbers— if we continue to do what we’ve been doing over the past 50 years.

Derryck Green, a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network, received a M.A. in Theological Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing his doctorate in ministry at Azusa Pacific University. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.