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On 50th Anniversary on War on Poverty, Black Leaders Say the War Hurt Black Families‏



LBJ's "War on Poverty" Hurt Black Americans

Five Decades After: Black Progress Hurt by Expansion in Government, Welfare

Black Activists Criticize Handout Mentality that Destroyed Traditional Families

Fifty years ago today, before a joint session of Congress, President Lyndon Baines Johnson announced an "unconditional war on poverty in America." Today, black activists with the Project 21 leadership network are critical of how that war has been waged. They note the expansion of government and a strategy focused on handouts that discourage self-improvement caused more harm than help to the poor.

"Five decades after President Johnson initiated the 'war' on poverty, America remains at around the same percentage of people still living in poverty as it did back then. In 1964, the poverty rate was approximately 19 percent. Today, it's around 15 percent," said Project 21 spokesman Derryck Green. "Statistics such as these demonstrate the War on Poverty was a continually-mismanaged disaster. That isn't to say there haven't been people helped by it. All things considered, however, it's been a tragedy."

Green added: "The disastrous effects of the government's management of anti-poverty initiatives are recognizable across racial lines, but the destruction is particularly evident in the black community. It effectively subsidized the dissolution of the black family by rendering the black man's role as a husband and a father irrelevant, invisible and — more specifically — disposable. The result has been several generations of blacks born into broken homes and broken communities experiencing social, moral and economic chaos. It fosters an inescapable dependency that primarily, and oftentimes solely, relies on government to sustain livelihoods."

Federal programs directly resulting from the War on Poverty include Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, food stamps and enhanced Social Security benefits. At the time, President Johnson boasted, "[t]he richest nation on Earth can afford to win it." In 1988, President Ronald Reagan noted in his 1988 State of the Union Address that "we waged a war on poverty, and poverty won." President George H.W. Bush, in his own 1992 State of the Union Address, pointed out: "Welfare was never meant to be a lifestyle; it was never meant to be a habit; it was never supposed to be passed on from generation to generation like a legacy." Bush's comment echoed a statement by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who, long before the War on Poverty even began, warned government assistance could be like a "narcotic."

Commenting on the potential debilitating effects of public assistance, Project 21 Co-Chairman Cherylyn Harley LeBon said: "Although they were conceived with good intentions, the programs of the War on Poverty have ultimately had a negative impact on the lives of black Americans. Even Franklin Roosevelt warned that the welfare state 'must not become a narcotic and a subtle destroyer of the spirit.'"

LeBon continued: "While some good things did come out of the 1960s, many of these programs — including Head Start — have become ineffective and, some argue, damaging over time. In fact, some of the major disasters plaguing minority communities — including drugs, higher incarceration rates and a rise in unwed mothers — couldn't have just coincidentally began escalating at the same time. At this point, when we can reflect upon what has happened and what is needed, we should now support and expand policies encouraging small business expansion, improving educational opportunities, and strengthening faith and families."

Project 21's Jerome Hudson said: "Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty produced a reality that is horrifyingly different than the one he probably hoped for. Instead of providing a mere safety net for families in need, it effectively replaced the virtues of work and self-reliance with an avalanche of welfare programs nuturing the poor. These welfare programs foster defeatism, disincentivize two-parent homes and set ablaze an American underclass now seemingly trapped in a never-ending cycle of poverty."

"Fifty years ago, America began the War on Poverty," said Project 21 Co-Chairman Horace Cooper. "Having spent trillions with little to show for it, it's clearly time to declare a cease fire. After destroying generations of blacks and all but destroying the black family in total, it is time to try empowerment and personal responsibility."

"The War on Poverty has arguably destroyed the black nuclear family," said Project 21's Christopher Arps. "Roughly 75 percent of black children were born to a married two-parent family when the 'war' began in 1964. By 2008, the percentage of black babies born out of wedlock numbered over 72 percent. Today, the rate of unwed motherhood in the black community is more than twice as high as among whites — and almost three times higher than before big government's grand intervention. And all this comes at a steep financial cost. The federal government has spent an estimated $15 trillion dollars to end poverty. Government reportedly spent $20,610 on every poor individual and $61,830 per poor family in 2012."

As the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty is observed, it appears the Obama Administration is effectively doubling down on some of the very concepts of which Project 21 members are critical, including raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits and food stamp enrollment as well as fostering class warfare by focusing on alleged income inequality.

"President Johnson's War on Poverty, which was being formulated during the Kennedy Administration, is perhaps the only government institution that destroyed and devastated the black American upward mobility and family structure. As an assistant secretary of labor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned that the premise and concept of the War on Poverty would be detrimental to black America," said Project 21's Charles Butler. "The infamous split between the races that Moynihan predicted has created a deficit between white and black in key areas such as education, income and net worth. Yet we keep doing the same thing repeatedly hoping for a different result."

Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for over two decades, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative, free-market, non-profit think-tank established in 1982. Contributions to the National Center are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated .


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Comment by Olushola Camara on January 8, 2014 at 8:06pm

You are correct Wes. The monies for these programs were exploited by the contractors put in charge of administering these programs. Most government programs contracted out or privatized are very costly to administer as the CEOs and their cronies get a big cut of the pie.

Comment by Wes Barnard on January 8, 2014 at 3:23pm

The War on Poverty became a War on the Poor because it was administered by white people who saw an opportunity to cash in on another government "plan". The concepts were wonderful and were designed to lift the poor out of their condition. However, these programs were executed very poorly.

I personally witnessed a public housing co-operative in San Francisco that was constructed poorly, maintained poorly and the poor people living in the property were blamed for both, although they had no control over either.

I saw three Mexicans come through the two square block property with weed-sackers to perform work described as "landscaping". They went through the entire complex in just over an hour. They performed this task once a week. The cost according to the budget for the complex? $65,000 per year. 

I won't go into sewage backing up into apartments, roofs leaking, windows missing, electrical fires, etc. The place looked like to dump, yet the monies allocated to maintain the property exceeding that allocated to maintain nearby luxury condominium high rises.

Where was all that money going? Into the pockets of the contractors, city officials, local leaders, etc. It was simply a pool of money that was meant for the poor, but never got to them.

No, it is not the program that failed. The failure was in the integrity, greed, selfishness and yes, racism of those given the responsibility to run the program. This points once again to the root cause of most of mankind's problems - lack of spirituality.

Unless and until we come to grips with this simple truth, the government and we ourselves can dream up all sorts of wonderful programs that could actually work IF those charged with administering them had integrity. Alas, such is not the case, from the top of this nation to the bottoms rungs, we see the same mad pursuit of pieces of paper with no intrinsic value.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Ready for some divine intervention yet?

Shalom, my brothers and sisters.

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