War on Poverty: Independence or In Dependence?

Barb Wire

By Tony Perkins

Family Research Council — It’s been 50 years and 20 trillion dollars since President Lyndon Johnson’s famous speech declaring war on poverty. What’s the report from the frontlines? The number of poor people hasn’t shrunk — and neither has the government. In fact, quite the opposite. Fighting poverty became an excuse to expand bureaucracy, 92 programs worth. And now, five decades later, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) wants to know what Americans have to show for it.

Certainly not the poverty rate, which is the highest at 15% in a generation. “Federal programs are not only failing to address the problem,” Ryan said in today’s House Budget hearing. “They are also in some significant respects making it worse.” For too long, he explained, “we have measured compassion by how much we spend instead of how many people get out of poverty.” Food stamps, Medicare, Social Security, housing assistance, while well intentioned, aren’t solving the problem.

Why? Because, as Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) puts it, “We will not grow our economy or put people back to work by expanding entitlements. We will never solve the problems of poverty and inequality through bigger government.” It’s time to consider the one social program we know works: the family. Every year, the U.S. spends about $800 billion on anti-poverty programs. That’s enough to write every low-income family inAmerica$59,500 check. But throwing money at the problem isn’t solving it, because the real issue isn’t financial breakdown — it’s family breakdown.

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Conservatives like Rick Santorum understand that reducing poverty is as simple as this: “Work, graduate from high school, and get married before you have children.” Do that and your chances of ending up in poverty are about 2%. If all you do is get married, then your odds of living in poverty are about 6%. Instead of sowing more big government liberalism, it’s time for Congress to make the connection between America’s financial mess and its cultural one. While the Left looks for the answer to poverty in welfare programs, our nation’s greatest hope continues to be in the home. What’s necessary, social science tells us, is a married mother and father — an advantage only 45% of this generation enjoy.

But don’t take our word for it — take Harvard University’s. In its latest analysis, experts insist that single parenthood is one of the largest obstacles in moving up the income ladder. “The study found the prevalence of single parents to be a much larger factor in determining social mobility than income inequality — something President Obama and Democrats speak of ad nauseum.”

That also helps explain why Americans have thrown $20 trillion at the war on poverty with next to nothing to show for it. Money can’t replace marriage as a lasting antidote to the poor’s problems. In this instance, we do need government — a government that won’t devalue family or stand in the way of its formation. As Michael Novak once said, “The family is the first, best, and original Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.” It’s time to focus our attention — and Congress’s — on stronger families, not bigger government.

Tony Perkins is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is recognized as a legislative pioneer for authoring measures like the nation’s first Covenant Marriage law.

(Via FRC’s Washington Update. Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.)

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

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