Why America Lost the War on Poverty--And How to Win It
Publication Year: 2007
Published by: The University of North Carolina Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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I was not poor when I grew up in the 50s, but I know that my family felt cramped. We had five people in a small house with two bedrooms. My father, a house painter, worked hard and usually steadily, but he probably did not charge his customers enough. The family never had a vacation together. I remember my mother using a wooden egg to darn a patch where we had holes in our socks. I have rarely been unemployed. For most of my high school and college years I worked in the university library...
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Two hundred years ago, poverty was a pressing issue in the United States. Influenced by Enlightenment rationalism, Protestant evangelicalism, and American self-confidence, reformers believed that they could cure poverty. In those years, as in other times, the causes of poverty were debated, but most people chose one of two big explanations. The first blamed the poor; laziness or foolishness caused them to be impoverished. The second emphasized political and economic structures...
PART ONE: THE GOLDEN AGE OF LAISSEZ–FAIRE?: THE 50S
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ONE: The 1950s: Limited Government, Limited Affluence
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For many Americans the decade of the 1950s has an agreeable image. As people stumbled through the turmoil of later years, they remembered the era of Dwight Eisenhower and Lucille Ball as a time of prosperity and moral calm. Two books published in 1986 reflected this warm popular assessment: William O’Neill’s American High: The Years of Confidence, 1945–1960 and J. Ronald Oakley’s God’s Country: America in the 50s. Of course, there were negative...
PART TWO: WARS ON POVERTY: THE 60S
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TWO: Planning the War on Poverty: Fixing the Poor or Fixing the Economy?
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Early in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared unconditional war on poverty. Before learning about the programs that followed, the reader might reflect on the best ways to solve poverty. One way to start thinking about antipoverty strategies is to learn about what made people poor. There will be theories and facts in the rest of this book to help the reader answer these questions, but here’s something concrete. In February 1964, Newsweek magazine profiled nine poor...
THREE: Evaluating the War on Poverty: The Conservatism of Liberalism
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In its heyday, the War on Poverty spent billions of dollars and much political capital to wipe out poverty. From 1964 to 1969, poverty rates fell from 20% of the population to 12%. That sharp decline seemed to prove that the War on Poverty was a winner. But the success of the War on Poverty remained controversial. Ronald Reagan asserted a decade later that government had declared war on poverty and poverty had won. Real victories against poverty, conservatives claimed, stemmed from individual willpower...
FOUR: Moynihan, the Dissenters, and the Racialization of Poverty: A Liberal Turning Point That Did Not Turn
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In the decades after World War II, people in other capitalist nations like Sweden, Germany, France, and the Netherlands spent less time and energy than Americans talking about poverty. That was not because they did not care about it. Rather, it was because they were busy developing government programs to serve people with a variety of needs—the poor and the not so poor, the unemployed, those without health insurance, parents requiring child-care assistance, and so on. These nations devised extensive social programs that helped the truly poor in the...
FIVE: Statistics and Theory of Unemployment and Poverty: Lessons from the 60s and the Postwar Era
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We cannot, finally, judge the War on Poverty or any antipoverty effort unless we understand the problem we are up against. Unless we understand the unemployment problem, we will be doomed to talk about poverty without eliminating it. This brief chapter steps outside the historical narrative to elaborate on the underlying theory of the book: that unemployment is much higher than we are usually led to believe, that unemployment is a major cause of poverty, and that capitalism cannot by itself cure poverty because it cannot for long do without...
PART THREE: TOWARD A WAR ON THE POOR: THE 70S AND 80S
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SIX: The Politics of Poverty and Welfare in the 70s: From Nixon to Carter
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Despite a backlash against racial liberalism, liberal Democrats in Congress and radicals in the streets were still able to make things happen in the early 1970s. Furthermore, although his inclinations were conservative, President Richard Nixon proposed radical improvements in the welfare system. Over the decade, however, the initiative shifted from people who wanted to improve government programs to those who wanted to cut government. Indeed, even as capitalism stumbled in the 70s, conservatives deflected blame from business to government. The welfare...
SEVEN: Too Much Work Ethic: One Reason Poverty Rates Stopped Falling in the 70s, and the Stories That Were Told about It
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In chapter 8 we will survey the debate between liberals and conservatives about poverty in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and in chapter 9 we will see how the conservative counterrevolution worked with Reagan in the White House. In this chapter we sketch real economic developments in the 70s, especially in labor markets, seeking explanations for the poverty crisis of the 70s. We will see that more Americans than ever wanted jobs but that the labor market could not fully absorb them. While some commentators mourned the death of the work ethic, there were huge...
EIGHT: Cutting Poverty or Cutting Welfare: Conservatives Attack Liberalism
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Starting in the 1970s, there was a resurgence of conservatism in many of the rich nations of Western Europe and North America. High energy prices, slow economic growth, and tougher global competition fueled the conservative counterrevolution, but so also did conservatives, who worked hard to shape public debate. Nowhere was this more true than in the United States.∞ In the next chapter we will describe the political impact of conservative efforts to undo the New Deal–1960s welfare state. In this chapter, we focus on the world of ideas and attitudes. In the United...
NINE: Reagan, Reaganomics, and the American Poor, 1980–1992
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When Ronald Reagan took o≈ce as president in January 1981, Americans had been living with economic crises for a decade. They had endured high food prices and long lines for expensive gas. Unemployment and poverty were on the rise, and wages had been sinking for eight years. Meanwhile, some white people were fed up with what they saw as special privileges for black Americans; others, like George Gilder, hoped to restore male-dominated families by cutting welfare. It looked like a good time for conservatives. Conservative ideas would get a boost,...
PART FOUR: THE POOR YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE WITH YOU—IF YOU DON'T DO THE RIGHT THING: 1993–PRESENT
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TEN: Staying Poor in the Clinton Boom: Welfare Reform, the Nearby Labor Force, and the Limits of the Work Ethic
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Why, forty years after the War on Poverty, does the United States still have more than 30 million poor people? Why does the United States usually have the highest poverty rate among the rich nations? Part of the answer is that economic growth does not wipe out unemployment and poverty. But that is only half the answer. Other nations start out with as much unemployment and poverty, but they o√er more money and services to those people who are left behind. That is why they have less poverty. In the 90s two mainstream solutions to...
ELEVEN: Bush and Beyond: On Solving and Not Solving Poverty
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Government policy in the early 2000s was a good example of how not to cure poverty and unemployment. Events of those years showed that private markets and a government policy favoring the aΔuent failed the people. It does not have to be that way. Other rich nations have social programs that are more generous and that help parents work if they want to. The problem is not that Americans don’t want to work at something useful and or that they don’t want stable social relationships; it...
APPENDIX 1 Unemployment, Poverty, Earnings, and Household Structure
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APPENDIX 2 Groups Often Left Out of Antipoverty Discussions in the 60s and Today
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...research. Here I highlight works of history. What follows is a sketch, not the full-blownarticle that someone might write on the historiography of poverty in modern America.One should start with two basic sources. The first is the Census Bureau’s annualreport on poverty lines and poverty thresholds. The report appears in late August andcovers the previous year. The 2001 edition was called Poverty in the United States: 2000....
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Page Count: 360
Illustrations: 22 illus., 7 tables
Publication Year: 2007