Is America actually winning the war on poverty? The latest data from the Census Bureau seems to say no. Forty years after Lyndon B. Johnson declared the beginning of his Great Society, the poverty rate has barely dropped from 12.8% in 1968 to 12.3% today.
The American Enterprise Institute paints a more promising picture, however, in The Long Term Story Behind the New Numbers.The AEI looked at the big picture, compiling income statistics from the last 40 years and dividing up the data demographically.
The Good News.As employment rises, poverty falls --- and between 2005 and 2006, unemployment fell from 5.1 percent to 4.6 percent.Poverty among the elderly has almost disappeared, falling from 25% in 1968 to 9.4% in 2006. Poverty among single moms has also declined by 20% over the past 40 years, and more single women are working. From 2005 to 2006, their unemployment rate fell from 9.4% to 8.5%. African-Americans and Hispanics earned more between 1980 and 2004, something the AEI attributes to welfare reform and "broader economic and social forces." The Hispanic poverty rate dropped from 30.7% to 20.6% in 2006.
The Bad News.Single moms and African-American men have made progress, but they're still struggling. The single-mother poverty rate was 36% in 2006, and single-mother families were six times more likely to be poor than married-couple families. African-American men are still about two-and-a-half times more likely than white or Hispanic men to have zero income.
The AEI said liberals will see the numbers as proof that big government works, and conservatives will chalk the change up to education and hard work: "But the larger message is that … substantial (albeit uneven) progress has been made against poverty. That is good news for us all."