The "War on Poverty" announced in the 1960s created a federal system designed to help people escape poverty. Unfortunately, it in its approach, it created an entirely new problem whose repercussions are being felt today.
The welfare system's shift to make it easier to receive financial assistance during difficult times had well-intentioned goals, but as poverty studies expert Robert Doar explains in the attached video, it changed people's expectations about aid.
President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty had some important successes, but it got at least one thing very wrong: Its leaders used the language of civil rights to talk about income and poverty. Financial assistance from the government is not a right! It's not protected by the Constitution like religious freedom or freedom of speech.
Under the framework of the Constitution, the federal government does not have legitimate power to create any sort of welfare apparatus. The attitude that financial assistance is a "right" is problematic, Doar explains.
Using the language of rights led to two big mistakes. First, it told people in need that they had no role in improving their economic situation; the government would take care of everything. And second, it led to a misguided effort to use Congress and federal courts to impose uniform anti-poverty policies on every state. Helping people struggling with poverty doesn't work that way!
A sidebar: the federal government's one-size-fits-all approach to combating poverty ignores the boots on the ground in the middle of the anti-poverty battlefield.
Individual responsibility plays a role. It's not always sufficient – but it is essential – and federal mandates often mean decision makers are too far removed from what is happening in cities and states.
Local and state-level programs require efforts from those receiving help. The workfare reforms of the 1990s improved the condition of those receiving welfare in this country. Failure to enforce the reforms means fewer people are now being helped —
or helping themselves — out of poverty.