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In Baltimore, the ‘War On Poverty’ clearly isn’t working

Written By | May 6, 2015

PASADENA, Calif., April 6, 2015 − The city of Baltimore is starting to move on from the ugly race riots that recently terrorized its residents and grabbed the attention of the entire country. The protesters have gone home, the fires have been put out and the police officers who were involved in the death of Freddie Gray have been charged with murder. The discussion has now shifted to why this situation in Maryland deteriorated as badly as it did and how to prevent this tragedy from happening again.

The generally accepted precursor to the riots that broke out following Freddie Gray’s funeral is that there is a large number of people, primarily African-Americans, living in the inner city who feel forgotten and ignored by society. In many cases they also feel oppressed, due to a variety of factors. But the most significant force keeping many in urban communities feeling down, out and therefore alienated, is poverty.

In the mid-1960s, Democratic President Lyndon Johnson launched what he called the War on Poverty, starting with legislation that he muscled efficiently through Congress. Among other things, this legislation made the Food Stamp Act permanent, created Medicare and Medicaid, and established new federal bureaucracies to manage unemployment benefits.

Johnson described the goals of these new policies in his State of the Union address in 1964, proclaiming, “Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.”

Johnson’s intentions may have been good, at least on the surface. But it’s hard to know this for certain. Behind the scenes, LBJ was forthright about his political motivation to do whatever it took to ensure African-Americans would vote Democratic for as many election cycles as possible. The former president is alleged to have bragged about figuring out a way to have “those n****** voting Democrat for 200 years” after signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, something he vehemently opposed for years as Senate majority leader.

Good intentions or not, LBJ’s policies didn’t work, although they did accomplish the goal of creating a dependent underclass that has voted Democratic for decades. The fact remains that the battle against poverty has gone nowhere since the implementation of LBJ’s ideas.

Today, the government spends 16 times more, adjusted for inflation, than it did in 1967, yet the national poverty rate is basically the same. Over 46 million Americans are currently receiving food stamps, and the labor participation rate is at its lowest point in 40 years. Simply put, things aren’t going very well for poor people.

The last Republican mayor of Baltimore left office in 1967, two years before Lyndon Johnson left the White House. Baltimore has been solidly in the hands of Democrats for 50 years, and the economic results of the War on Poverty have been the same in that city as they have been nationally, a clear indication that liberal policies have run the city into the ground.

Government pervasively runs the show in Baltimore; 20.7 percent of all jobs in the city are federal jobs. Maryland’s welfare system is one of the most lenient in the country. A single mother of two can qualify for up to seven benefit programs and earn up to $35,000 a year while the city suffers from an 8.4 percent unemployment rate. This is the definition of dis-incentivizing people to work, and it’s working.

How does Baltimore’s taxation treat the poor? It hammers them. The city boasts the 12th highest tax rate of the 53 major cities in America, more than double the rate of the rest of Maryland, which, in turn, has some of the highest tax rates in the country. The city has not only created a dependent class. It is smothering them with excessive tax rates, a recipe for perpetual poverty.

There are many viable alternatives to the exploding federal deficit, a substantial part of which goes to fund government programs intended to eliminate poverty.

One of the most outspoken critics of the “War on Poverty” is current House Ways and Means Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.. Ryan suggests he would “consolidate many of our federal poverty programs into flexible programs that go to our states to customize a welfare benefit for person’s particular need.”

Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, is trying to make a dent in federal entitlements.  He points out that simply restructuring Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security could save the country $500 billion over the next decade.

Entitlement reform such as this is not only a practical idea. It’s absolutely necessary. The national debt, which is currently approaching a staggering $20 trillion, is clearly unsustainable. As the debt skyrockets, government spending goes up in almost every area, including welfare spending, which has jumped 32 percent under President Obama.  Spending is going up while poverty remains essentially unchanged. Clearly something has to give.

Solutions are readily available. The fact that historically liberal states like Illinois and Michigan are beginning to elect conservatives into positions of power suggests that perhaps even die-hard liberal constituents are getting fed up with the excessive spending that has taken place for over 50 years under the guise of the War on Poverty.

Many on the left, including the President, have blamed federal spending cuts for the discord in Baltimore. But the numbers clearly show that while “War on Poverty” spending has steadily increased over the past decades, little, if anything, has improved in inner cities.

High unemployment, civil unrest and a general lack of confidence are directly related to government policies that restrict growth and opportunity. What has recently transpired in Baltimore simply offers graphic proof.

Andrew Mark Miller