Today marks 50 years since Lyndon Johnson declared his "unconditional war on poverty." Yet the percentage of Americans living in poverty has remained roughly unchanged in the decades since, despite some $916 billion in federal spending on means-tested welfare programs in 2012 alone, Robert Rector from the conservative Heritage Foundation writes at the Wall Street Journal. "If converted to cash, current means-tested spending is five times greater than the amount needed to eliminate all official poverty in the US," he writes.
All that spending has indeed improved the poor's living standards, but Johnson promised to lift people out of poverty, and "by that standard, the war on poverty has been a catastrophe." Rector suggests two solutions: First, require welfare recipients "to work or prepare to work," and second, "reduce the antimarriage incentives rife within welfare programs." Right now, if a single mother marries a working father, her benefits will plummet—but kids raised by a single parent are 50% more likely to be poor as adults. Click for his full column. (More Heritage Foundation stories.)