The Democrats are at it again. Both Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama have made "poverty" a central theme of their campaigns, promising to lift up the poor and put a chicken in every pot, a large screen TV on every wall, and a new car in every driveway.
Predictably, the government, i.e., taxpayers, will be expected to underwrite a raft a new programs to alleviate the problems of the poor. Those of us old enough to remember President Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty" also recall that there were poor then and there are poor now.
On March 16, 1964, LBJ launched his War on Poverty with his Economic Opportunity Act saying that "It strikes at the causes, not just the consequences of poverty", but we all know the causes.
Some poor people are born into poverty because their parents are poor. They often exacerbate the problem by dropping out of school, insuring that they lack an adequate education to secure jobs that pay well for real knowledge and skills. Others use drugs to escape the pain of poverty and often become part of the revolving door of the prison system. Some women become pregnant early in life without a husband and incur poverty as a result. Some are just lazy and think work is for suckers.
According to a 2004 article in the Christian Science Monitor, noting the 40th anniversary of the War on Poverty. as LBJ was announcing his plans, the poverty rate in America was actually in decline, from 22.4 percent to about 19 percent. The rate would fall to about 11 percent by 1973.
By the 1990s, public opinion about what should be done to reduce poverty and its cost to the nation had changed. Republicans advocated welfare reform, passed in 1996, and the emphasis was on recipients to get a job. The welfare rolls have since declined in most, if not all states.
Johnson's War on Poverty predictably expanded the federal bureaucracy, creating a job corps, a work-training program, and work-study program. LBJ championed Medicare and Medicaid that later were enacted into law. Both, like Social Security, are tottering on bankruptcy in the near future and, of course, Congress-who initiated these programs-has its head in the sand hoping the problem will go away. Everyone knows that the only way to save them is to considerably raise taxes and, when that happens, goodbye to good times.
The Democrats have always been seen as the party that has the greatest concern for the poor, while Republicans have been portrayed as largely indifferent and home to the nation's richest citizens. Considering how closely the divide is in terms of voters, it would seem that both parties have an equal number of rich and poor. There are lots of Democrat millionaires and some like Bill Gates, the quintessential example of a self-made billionaire, are forever bleating about the poor. He is free to give away as much of his wealth as he wants, but many of the middle class are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.
A Washington Post article in August 2007 noted that, "The nation's poverty rate declined last year for the first time this decade, but the number of Americans without health insurance rose to a record 47 million, according to annual census figures released yesterday." Health insurance and poverty should be treated as separate issues.
In general, about 12 percent of the nation's population has always been ranked as below the poverty line established to determine what it costs to live in America. This figure rises and falls with the cycles of employment and is affected often by changes well beyond the control of the government. For example, the "out-sourcing" of jobs to places like India and China has had a significant impact.
The government, of course, plays a role when it raises the minimum wage requirements for small businesses and large. The utter indifference to the annual flow of a million illegal immigrants taking jobs that would otherwise be available to low income Americans is yet another factor for any rise in poverty.
The rich whom Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi seems to resent pay the vast majority of the taxes the government collects. "The rich have gotten richer, but every other income group under the Bush administration has lost ground," laments Speaker Pelosi, ignoring the fact that she and her husband are very much among those rich Americans, as are all the members of Congress.
Indeed, the failure of Sen. John Edwards' candidacy, based on his "Two Americas" theme, pitting the rich, i.e. the middle class, against the poor, is a good indicator that most Americans understand the fundamentals of what causes poverty and what alleviates it.
Ignored as well was the huge economic hit the nation took on September 11, 2001 as the result of the attack. Easily a trillion dollars was lost as a result, but under the same Bush administration that Speaker Pelosi criticizes, there has not been another such attack. Its perpetrators are on the run and losing ground. The Bush tax cuts are universally seen as part of the reason the economy recovered so swiftly.
Now the nation's economy is suffering from the failure of the government to exercise oversight over the mortgage lending industry and Wall Street's inventive schemes to bundle subprime mortgage vulnerability into new ways to make money. The failure to rein in the credit card industry will no doubt create a similar problem.
Hurricane Katrina sucked a ton of money out of the nation's economy. Congressional earmarks in the billions have the same effect.
America has a portion of its population that is below the poverty line and someone should point out that America has always had this problem. The failure to address the invasion of millions of illegal aliens has put hospitals into bankruptcy, burdened school systems with millions more in property taxes to educate their children, and added millions to the cost of crime, law enforcement, and incarceration.
LBJ's War on Poverty barely made a dent in it. New Democrat proposals will do the same. Listening to Democrat candidates for president bleat about the poor should raise a note of caution because they clearly do not want to address the real problems facing the nation. In his farewell message, Sen. John Edwards said that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had pledged to make "ending poverty" central to their campaigns. It has never been done because it cannot be done.
There will always be poor Americans. The answer will always be the creation of new jobs and, where needed, appropriate social services programs.