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February 25, 2006

Poverty

Since there's an energetic argument on the Great Society whirling in the Will thread, it's probably time to note that my poverty feature is unlocked and ready to read. Here's the beginning, which is rather relevant to the conversation below:

"It was 1988, Ronald Reagan’s final state of the Union. The previous eight years had been good to the Gipper. The word “liberal” had been rendered radioactive, much on the conservative wish list had been checked off, and Reagan himself had stomped two successive Democratic challengers. So you might think he would have been content to ride quietly into the sunset, a conservative legend retiring athwart a horse named History. But that night, Reagan stuck a final knife in the battered, bloodied carcass of liberalism. As was his wont, he did it with a grin: “My friends,” he said. “Some years ago, the federal government declared war on poverty, and poverty won. [Laughter.] Today, the federal government has 59 major welfare programs and spends more than $100 billion a year on them. What has all this money done?”

The jab was classic Reagan. Even now, the chuckles echo, preserved in the transcript as stage direction for future conservatives. But, in classically Reaganesque fashion, the line lacked a sort of historical, well, accuracy. The money had done much. The Great Society had not failed, its programs were not bureaucratic black holes whirling destructively through the inner city. While poverty had indeed weathered Lyndon Johnson’s assault, it stumbled forth a withered shell of its former self. Where in 1959 it could claim a robust membership of 22.4 percent of Americans, by 1973 it was at an emaciated 11.1 percent. In 2004, it rested at 12.7 percent.

And there’s good reason for that success. Since Lyndon Johnson, only the two Presidents Bush failed to substantively address poverty. Richard Nixon created Supplemental Security Income and considered guaranteeing a minimum yearly wage, Gerald Ford resurrected the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Jimmy Carter passed the Comprehensive Employment and Training Administration Act, and even Ronald Reagan vastly expanded the EITC. To paraphrase Bush’s favorite philosopher, the poor we have always had with us, even during Republican administrations.

But for conservatives, halting attempts to eradicate poverty slowly gave way to more successful efforts to vilify it. Conservative leaders kept a dark (literally and figuratively) picture of the underclass visible to the nation’s white middle class. The faces of poverty became more sinister: the Willie Hortons and the Linda Taylors (Linda Taylor was Reagan’s ubiquitous welfare queen whose ill-gotten payouts totaled no more than $8,000). These visages transformed a discussion over alleviating economic despair into a subtly racist wedge issue that resonated with white males. And so it was easier, after that, to suggest that, irrespective of the facts, the Great Society was a disaster, poverty the intractable affliction of an unsocialized underclass. Egghead liberals with more good intentions than common sense had surrendered to instinct and offered cash prizes to every unwed black mother able to bear a child, creating a culture of government dependency that fostered criminality, broken families, and joblessness.

Conservatives, deciding government involvement had created the problem, concluded that government withdrawal would solve it. But Clinton’s ascension and Democratic sympathy for the poor wrecked that plan, and the two sides eventually compromised on a sort of political detente they termed welfare reform. Welfare reform, while about poor people, was never about poverty, it was about politics. It made the impoverished a little less galling to the better off, ensuring that the government’s incentive structure didn’t reward the out-of-work and thus offend the gainfully employed. Meanwhile, crime was plummeting and the streets, thanks to Bill Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill, were flooded with new police officers. Come the late 1990s, the poor were neither dangerous nor ideologically maddening. A handful of urban politicians continued pleading for inner-city aid, but with electoral power shifting away from metropolitan centers, few listened. After 9-11, no one did. Poor blacks were no longer the threat; poor browns had taken their place. And so America’s impoverished became something new: forgotten.

And then the waters came."

Read on...

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"in 1959 it could claim a robust membership of 22.4 percent of Americans, by 1973 it was at an emaciated 11.1 percent. In 2004, it rested at 12.7 percent".

From 1959 to 1965 the poverty rate went down 5%, before "geat society" policies, the poverty rate was already on its way down. When the "great society" welfare policies were implemented in 1965, the poverty rate was only 2% higher than the poverty rate in 1993.

The great society policies discouraged marriage among the poor, which led to crime, drug abuse, disease, promiscuity and more poverty. The spirit behind welfare is to be a temporary assistance until a person or family can get back on their feet, not a lifestyle. Look at what welfare has done to the black family.

"Since Lyndon Johnson, only the two Presidents Bush failed to substantively address poverty."

Really?

"In 1996, the poverty level in the USA stood at 13.7 percent. In 2004, the poverty level was 12.7 percent, so Bush beats Clinton here by a full percentage point. To be fair, Clinton did bring the poverty rate down during his administration, while it has been rising slightly since 9/11. But at the halfway point, Bush wins.

As far as entitlement spending on poverty programs is concerned, it isn't even close. In 1996, President Clinton signed a budget that directed 12.2 percent of spending be directed toward the poor. In 2004, Bush's budget kicked 2 percent more than Clinton to poverty programs, an astronomical $329 billion. In fact, President Bush is spending more on poverty entitlement programs and education than any president in history."

You claim Republicans are using this as a political wedge to appeal to bigots and the stupid. Do you believe most of this countries citizens are bigots and/or stupid? Because most people want welfare reform. At least Republicans tried to correct the system instead of throwing money at it and making the problem worse.

I notice you mention Katrina later on, I didn't read it real close (I already found so many errors), but I am sure you were referring to the corrupt Democratic Louisanna gov't and New Orleans city gov't failures before and after the hurricane.

If you want to try and defend the "great society", fine, but I suggest you take a walk, maybe a drive, through some of the poorer areas of DC when you get home and see the results of the "great society".

In Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine", Michael Moore tries to blame a welfare to work program (I believe MI's) for a little kid taking a gun to school and shooting someone. What about the millions of kids who grew up in homes with lots of guns and both parents working?

Posted by: Captain Toke | Feb 25, 2006 3:58:23 PM

"From 1959 to 1965 the poverty rate went down 5%"

Indeed, and from 1965 to 1973 it went down another 5 percent. A 10 percent drop during a period of liberal Democratic policies. Under Reagan, poverty went up. Under Bush 41, it went up. Under Bush 43, it went up. Under Clinton, it went down. So it dropped 10 percent during liberal rule and went up during every Republican save Nixon, and Nixon was a Democrat domestically any way.

Way to make a point there, Tokes, way to make a point.

Oh, and by the way, don't conflate the families in poverty rate with the generalized poverty rate and think I'm not going to notice. In 1965, poverty was at 17.3% on the standard metric...in 1993, it was 5 percent lower. The numbers, of course, are right there at your link.

Posted by: Ezra | Feb 25, 2006 4:56:26 PM

Ouch! Please Ezra don't hurt 'em!

Posted by: Dustin R. Ridgeway | Feb 25, 2006 5:43:44 PM

This "halfway point" stuff is probably the most transparently hackish misuse of statistics I've ever head. Yeah, let's just give Bush credit for Clinton's second-term accomplishments.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Feb 25, 2006 6:16:39 PM

Did you like that dustin?

"Indeed, and from 1965 to 1973 it went down another 5 percent. A 10 percent drop during a period of liberal Democratic policies."

The liberal Democratic policies didn't take effect till the mid sixties and by then poverty was already on it's way down.

I have cut and paste the poverty statistics, from the link.

1993 10/.. 259,278 39,265 15.1 219,489 29,927 13.6

1965...... 191,413 33,185 17.3 179,281 28,358 15.8

17.3-15.1 = 2.2%
15.8-13.6 = 2.2%

Is it that .2% that is throwing you?

How am I conflating any numbers?

Do they account for the fact that in 1965 one of the biggest health problems for the poor was malnourishment. Today, under the standard we use for poverty, the biggest health concern for the poor is obesity. The poor in this country eat better than most people in the world.

You still haven't explained how even tho Bush spends a bigger percentage of the budget on the poor, he didn't measure up to Clinton. Probably cuz Bush can't make that crocodile tear come to his eye when he tells a poor black person "I feel your pain".

Posted by: Captain Toke | Feb 25, 2006 6:23:47 PM

Well neil,

Bush endured the Clinton recession of 2000 and the disastrous economic effects of 9/11 nine months into his presidency. Check out the current unemployment rate.

Posted by: Captain Toke | Feb 25, 2006 6:25:59 PM

Toke: "From 1959 to 1965 the poverty rate went down 5%"
Ezra: Indeed, and from 1965 to 1973 it went down another 5 percent. A 10 percent drop during a period of liberal Democratic policies.

Since the Great Society and it's billions per year of spending didn't get rolling until mid-sixties, you are saying that it was a already a trend and actually went down faster without the social programs??

That, of course, is just an observation and has little meaning just as the correlation of the spending programs and the modest drop on poverty. There are many other factors to consider.
If any of you have read FREAKONOMICS, the author correlates the drop in crime with the 1973 SC abortion ruling. Why wouldn't it also affect poverty levels?
1

Posted by: Fred Jones | Feb 25, 2006 7:43:08 PM

Sometimes I think this blog has headlice being passed back and forth between babee freddee and the tokehead. Recreational drugs and conservative illusions won't fix the problem however.

Excellent article and synopsis of the problem and some possible solutions, Ezra.

I'm less enthusiastic about the asset building programs given how hard it is to make assets grow through traditional investment vehicles (mutual funds) given the lack of experience and knowledge on the part of the poor. Nothing could be more depressing than seeing your hard-worked-for assets decreasing year over year, as they often do with the economic cycle. The S&P 500 (SPY) for mutual funds last year barely out performed treasury debt given management fees and inflation. I'd much rather have this money directed into skills training, daycare, healthcare, and longer-term unemployment insurance. The financial investment industry would feast on the money from these folks.

The poor don't vote very much, and therefore don't get much political attention - apart from the fact that no group or party with any clout speaks to legislators for them. They don't fund election bids, and they don't give to PACs, so they are ignored. Major partisan issues are not their issues. Public financing of elections (to allow legislators to focus on problems instead of campaign finance) and national holidays for voting would do more for them than ineffective get-out-the-vote programs - both parties are irrelevant to their lives today.

Posted by: JimPortandOR | Feb 25, 2006 9:24:25 PM

Excellent piece of work, Ezra.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Feb 26, 2006 12:08:31 AM

Rather than actually engage with the bridge-dwellers here, I'll simply reiterate my point: poverty has gone down with every Democrat, up with most every Republican. It's unclear to me whether these kids think Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, or Johnson deserve the credit, but not a single one offers support for anything but concerted government intervention. As for the Great Society, there's a weird lack of comprehension about what it was and wasn't. Conservatives seem to think it a massive raft of antipoverty programs. Not so. There were a couple programs that could be seen as poverty fighters, while the bulk of the GS was racial, with the most important part being the Voting Rights Act.

In 1973, Nixon dismantled the main anti-poverty center, the Office of Economic Opportunity, and as Tokes helpfully pointed out, the drop in poverty slowed. Then came Reagan's inequality boom (and first budget, which repealed much of the GS), and we never made a real dent in poverty again, save during the roaring economy of the Clinton years. Where any conservative gets off talking about the subject I'll never know: their record has been nothing save pathetic.

Posted by: Ezra | Feb 26, 2006 12:59:02 AM

Interesting comparison of Clinton v. W.

The congress and Clinton were much more fiscally conservative from 1992 to 2000 vs. the congress and W over the last 6 years. There were also some significant changes in the welfare funding system during Clinton's tenure.

W has yet to veto one bill.

While there has been a lot of dollars being spend of the military, it doesn't look like it is coming at the expense of social programs.

Posted by: m | Feb 26, 2006 2:03:51 AM

you must not question the randroids!!

Posted by: almostinfamous | Feb 26, 2006 9:31:51 AM

Rather than actually engage with the bridge-dwellers here, I'll simply reiterate my point: poverty has gone down with every Democrat, up with most every Republican.

This reminds me of the character on Saturday night live that, upon hearing unwelcome news, sticks their fingers in their ears and starts yelling "La..la..la..la..la..la..la..la...." as loud as they can to drown out the facts. I mean, SO WHAT? I, too can make up some irrelevant coincidences. How 'bout this: Medical technology has advanced under W more than it did under Clinton. Well, yes but it had nothing to do with who was president. Just follow the exponential curve of medicine. Or *this*: Bush's budget has more poverty relief dollars in it than any other president. Again, so what? Indexed entitlement programs do this automatically.
I just think this type of argument is dumb regardless of which side of the aisle you choose. However, it's especially dumb to have the blogger himself, a mild-mannered journalist by day, spew this. Very disappointing.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Feb 26, 2006 9:35:48 AM

You have to earn the right to be taken seriously, Fred. A string of non-sequiturs, digressions, random talking points, and total ignorance of opposing arguments doesn't do the trick. When one of you start answering my questions (why does poverty go down under every single Democrat and up under every single Republican? Why do you think the Great Society had massive antipoverty spending? What do you think it was? Why did the decline cease in 1973? Why did poverty hike under Ronald Reagan?), and answering them convincingly, I'll give you some time. As it is, I've run this merry-go-round with Charles Murray himself, your pale shadowing of his arguments really aren't worth my time.

Posted by: Ezra | Feb 26, 2006 10:36:52 AM

"Murray himself" does your pet stalinist and his pal the self-hating doper a disservice. Murray's "bell-curve" book and PR campaign was a simple fraud designed to provide cover for policy. His name now impresses about as much as "Lysenko himself." At least these aren't getting paid to lie, which gives them a leg up in my book. Both do, however, continue to prove that as with John Lott, their having made a factual claim is automatic grounds to require independent confirmation.

I remind all that they are both simply addicts of a very particular stripe, and deserve only our pity. Cf, as before, http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-01/euhs-esl012406.php

You need treatment, kids. Get help.

Posted by: wcw | Feb 26, 2006 1:18:57 PM

"and answering them convincingly,"

That's the thing. You say Bush hasn't done much for poverty. I show you that he is spending more than other other president and a bigger percentage of the budget on the poor than Clinton spent and you discount it as coincidence or not convincing enough.

But if you would clear something up for me.

"Oh, and by the way, don't conflate the families in poverty rate with the generalized poverty rate and think I'm not going to notice. In 1965, poverty was at 17.3% on the standard metric...in 1993, it was 5 percent lower. The numbers, of course, are right there at your link."

Now, I showed my math using the figures from the link I provided.

1993 10/.. 259,278 39,265 15.1 219,489 29,927 13.6

1965...... 191,413 33,185 17.3 179,281 28,358 15.8

17.3-15.1 = 2.2%
15.8-13.6 = 2.2%

How do you come up with a 5% difference? Or doesn't my math answer convincingly?

Posted by: Captain Toke | Feb 26, 2006 1:26:56 PM

ou have to earn the right to be taken seriously, Fred. A string of non-sequiturs, digressions, random talking points, and total ignorance of opposing arguments doesn't do the trick.

That is *exactly* my point!

Why does poverty go down under every single Democrat and up under every single Republican?

Finding a favorable stat, relating that stat without any evidence, asking your reader to make the leap of connection that you are unable to iterate and then asking the other side to disprove your assertion is just ignorant. Try this one:
The murder rate has declined in every state that has concealed carry since that law was enacted. Is it true? Sure, it is! Was the concealed carry law the sole reason? I dunno.....at least I have the decency to not make that that assertion without *some* evidnence and then ask you to disprove it.
In your 'poverty' post, you admitted that poverty took a big drop in the previous 6 years even before the Great Society spending spree. Now you wish the reader to agree that it was all the spending that did the trick. It's just such a partisan post and position. Spending on poor= good....whether it actually does any good or not.


Posted by: Fred Jones | Feb 26, 2006 2:04:45 PM

I guess we'll have to go with the Captain's observation that the poor eat better than people in other countries because they get fat. Damn. I thought the diabetes epidemic was related to eating the wrong kind of food - and obesity.

Posted by: opit | Feb 26, 2006 2:20:07 PM

I guess we have a new resident idiot.

"Damn. I thought the diabetes epidemic was related to eating the wrong kind of food - and obesity."

Obesity leads to diabetes!

The poor in this country choose to eat the wrong food. Should we alot food stamps for a certain amount of fruit, vegetables, grain, etc.? It is bad enough they are poor, but you want to tell them what they can eat?

Oh, wait, isn't that what WIC is for? Only certain foods are WIC approved (I assume due to dietary regulations). It is bad enough that the poor need to be forced to take nutritious gov't food instead of beef jerky and candy bars for their babies.

opit, the poor in the rest of the world have to worry about starving to death. The poor in this country have to worry about obesity, and you want to bitch about it?! Bush causes diabetes! Just be happy you live in a country who's poor people are to fat.

Posted by: Captain Toke | Feb 26, 2006 3:22:20 PM

Next, opit will be telling us that the poor in other countries are fat too. He has seen little black kids in Africa in the National Geographic and on the Discovery Channel with big giant bellies.

They must be eatin good, huh opit? Better watch out for them diabetes!

Posted by: Captain Toke | Feb 26, 2006 3:27:11 PM

I think the first step we should do is redefine the poverty rate. Right now, the poverty threshold assumes a meager budget in which a third of it is committed to food, which may have been accurate in the sixties, but since food price inflation is a lagging indicator, food now makes up only a fifth of the meager budget. But they still calculate the amount it takes to feed a family and times it by three, thereby understating the poverty rate.

Posted by: ItAintEazy | Feb 26, 2006 9:52:56 PM

In an effort to get a better definition of poverty, why wouldn't you also measure semi-luxury and luxury items? If someone has cable, three TVs, an expensive ipod and a late model car, are they still in poverty? If they make money in the underground economy of prostitution, gambling or drugs, are they really poor just because it doesn't show in the current measurements?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Feb 27, 2006 10:40:14 AM

Johnson took office in November 1963, so the closest point in the surveys (taken in March, unless indicated otherwise) is 1964. Overall poverty in 1964 was 19% and family poverty was 17.4%:

1964 189,710 36,055 19.0 177,653 30,912 17.4

By the time he left office in January 1969, for which the closest date is the March 1969 survey, poverty had declined considerably:

1969 199,517 24,147 12.1 184,891 19,175 10.4

That’s a 6.9% decline in the overall poverty rate and a 7% decline in the family poverty rate. Given Nixon’s gutting of several GS programs, it would seem that Johnson’s economic program was a massive success.

That the progressive policies of Kennedy and Johnson were beneficial to those at the bottom becomes even more apparent when going back further and comparing 1960, the last of the Eisenhower years (of course, today Ike would be a left-wing commie Democrat) with 1969:

1960 179,503 39,851 22.2 168,615 34,925 20.7
1969 199,517 24,147 12.1 184,891 19,175 10.4

That’s a 10.1% reduction in individual poverty and a 10.3% reduction in family poverty. Although Dick nixed many GS programs, he did counter with other measures. Interestingly, for the rest of the 1970’s, poverty rates remained low, even hitting their all-time low in 1973.

As to the Clinton factor, it’s not entirely accurate to use the 1993 data because anything that Clinton did would likely have not had immediate systemic effects by October, nine months into his presidency. More accurate would be to look at the end of his presidency. When he took office, it looked like this:

1992(9) 256,549 38,014 14.8 217,936 28,961 13.3

When he left office, it looked like this:

2000(12) 278,944 31,581 11.3 231,909 22,347 9.6

Incidentally, that family rate of poverty is the lowest ever recorded in the US.

Posted by: J Smith | Feb 27, 2006 12:13:22 PM

The 'Great Society' policies weren't implimented until the mid sixties, so liberal policies weren't felt until after that.

"That the progressive policies of Kennedy and Johnson were beneficial to those at the bottom becomes even more apparent when going back further and comparing 1960"

Yet,

"it’s not entirely accurate to use the 1993 data because anything that Clinton did would likely have not had immediate systemic effects by October, nine months into his presidency."

Talk about me conflating numbers! This clown is doing some serious contorting to try and back up his argument. He thinks it is unfair to credit Clinton with the 1993 poverty rates, but he wants to go back to 1960 when poverty began to fall, five years before 'Great Society' policies were implemented and he wants to credit the 'Great Society' policies.

Posted by: Captain Toke | Feb 27, 2006 1:42:46 PM

Captain Toke, if I may use your military title, you misread the comment. The data from 1960 is important to establish what the sum was prior to Kennedy and Johnson, who were more liberal/progressive than Eisenhower. Of course, as I pointed out, Ike was a commie in comparison to GWB. Thus, 1960 provides the baseline for analyzing the net effect of K-J, as my comment plainly states. 1969 obviously provides the end point. Thus, those two dates provide the data for analyzing the K-J effect as a totality. I make this clear, yet you fallaciously claim that I use 1960 as the baseline for assessing the Great Society or that I credit the reduction from 1959 to 1960 to the GS (yoiu are somewhat unclear as to which). Your claim is therefore based on a misreading or is an outright lie.

That is, liberal policies were in place from at least January 1961. You can easily verify this by reference to a history book, but Kennedy and Johnson took office around then and both were liberal Democrats. Great Society programs were not in place until 1964 or 1965. The GS was announced in my home state on May 22, 1964, at the University of Michigan, so it's unlikely that there were any GS programs in place prior to that. Note, however, that the War on Poverty was announced by Johnson in his first State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. Nonetheless, liberal Democratic policies had already been in place for 3 or 4 years prior to the beginning of the GS/WOP.

As to Clinton, who in his moderate politics reminded me most of Eisenhower, the endpoint of his presidency is the proper point of assessment, just as the point at which to begin the analysis is prior to his having taken office, i.e., 1992.

As an aside, this thread seems to ingore that there is more to fighting poverty than merely giving money and other aid directly to the poor. It is also in having a safety net that prevents people from falling into poverty -- unemployment insurance, pension guarantees, deposit insurance, social security, etc. It is also in creating and maintaining access to the means -- generally educational -- of lifting oneself out of poverty. Among the main programs in this regard are student aid, tuition subsidies, affirmative action, etc. It is in ensuring that we don't have a hereditary aristocracy of wealth that can turn economic power into political power and thwart upward mobility and aspirations -- this is done through estate taxes, progressive income taxes and capital gains taxes. It is in minimizing as much as possible the priveliges bestowed by wealth and nmaximizing the opportunities of those without wealth. It's in job training, encouraging unionization, etc. No wonder then that Republican administrations, which are relatively* more conservative than Democratic ones, somehow effect increases in the rate of poverty and Democratic ones lead to decreases in poverty.

*Relative is the key term. Eisenhower would be a liberal Democrat today and he'd get along well with Bernie Sanders. Nixon -- sure, he'd love the PATRIOT Act and the sheer unaccountability of this administration, but his domestic policies were often more lefty than any president other than Johnson over the past 50 years. Ditto Ford (who can forget Opertation Bootstrap?). Nonetheless, all were more conservative than their opponents. Clinton would have been far too conservative to have ever won a Democratic nomination between 1932 and 1972, but he was still more liberal than his opponents. This applies to a lesser extent to Carter, who was also a relatively conservative Democrat.

Posted by: J Smith | Feb 27, 2006 2:23:08 PM

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