The idea that government welfare programs could eliminate poverty, rather than temporarily alleviate its worst impacts during hard times, took root during Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiative. From modest beginnings, a panoply of federal welfare programs expanded and multiplied to the point where they now consume one-sixth of the federal budget—some $588 billion last year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
This is a lot of spending—even by contemporary standards—and this figure doesn’t even include the current explosion in unemployment benefits, as these are considered social “insurance” payouts rather than welfare. Nor does it include Social Security or Medicare, our largest and most rapidly growing federal expenditures. To make matters worse, these programs, which were designed to keep the elderly out of poverty, are entitlements not yet subject to means testing, so payments go to rich, middle class, and poor alike.
With anti-poverty programs enjoying meteoric growth thanks to the economic policies of the current and previous administrations, we may someday look back fondly on the days when we “only” had to fork over half a trillion a year to support the longest and least successful “war” in American history, with no sign of stopping.
How many civil servants with good pay and benefits does it take to do all this poverty fighting? Try as I might to discover the answer I finally gave up, surprised that I couldn’t locate a definitive study enumerating the number of federal, state, and government-funded private employees whose livelihood depends on administering the ever expanding stream of tax dollars flowing to the poor. Is it any wonder that these entrenched bureaucrats have managed to slowly expand the definition of poverty to include a standard of living that would have been considered middle class back when the war on poverty started?
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