Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society.”
The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning…
So in the next 40 years we must re-build the entire urban United States…
While our Government has many programs directed at those issues, I do not pretend that we have the full answer to those problems. But I do promise this: We are going to assemble the best thought and the broadest knowledge from all over the world to find those answers for America.
I intend to establish working groups to prepare a series of White House conferences and meetings — on the cities, on natural beauty, on the quality of education, and on other emerging challenges. And from these meetings and from this inspiration and from these studies we will begin to set our course toward the Great Society.
The solution to these problems does not rest on a massive program in Washington, nor can it rely solely on the strained resources of local authority. They require us to create new concepts of cooperation, a creative federalism, between the National Capital and the leaders of local communities.
As Johnson’s speech noted, the federal government was about to play a much bigger role (“a creative federalism, between the National Capital and the leaders of local communities”) in our daily lives. The goal? An end to poverty and racial injustice, among other things, in the next 40 years.
Although not stated explicitly, the “idea” was to help the majority poor in this nation – blacks, Appalachian whites – through massive government spending.
As the New York Times noted in 1991, “The goal of the Great Society was to redistribute opportunity and wealth and to empower poor people.”
Relevant “Great Society” programs included federal aid for elementary and secondary schools, Medicare for the elderly, Medicaid for the poor, a nationwide food stamp program, and rent supplements for poor people.
Now, at the dawn of the Great Society, far more blacks, as a percentage of their total population, were living in poverty as compared to whites. At the dawn of the Great Society, this could easily be attributed to centuries of institutionalized racism. When government policy explicitly prevents blacks from joining the workforce, getting an education, or participating meaningfully in public affairs, certainly that would cause them (blacks) to suffer through no fault of their own. In 1964, institutionalized racism in this country ended. Did racism among individuals end? Of course not. But no rational person can conclude that any disparity in poverty evidenced in demographics is today a product of individual racism.
So institutionalized racism ended as the Great Society began, and where are blacks today, just over 40 years into the Great Society?
In 2005, 24.9% of blacks lived in poverty, compared to 8.3% of whites. Asians were at 11.1%. The poverty rate for all of America (including all demographics) was 12.5%. This high rate of poverty for blacks is despite the fact that overall poverty was reduced from roughly 24% in 1959 to 12.5% in 2005. Now, critics will say that despite the high poverty number for blacks, poverty for blacks has, in fact, decreased since the 1960s. In fact, the percentage of blacks in poverty has halved since 1960. But, as Thomas Sowell notes, there is more to the story:
The economic rise of blacks began decades earlier, before any of the legislation and policies that are credited with producing that rise. The continuation of the rise of blacks out of poverty did not — repeat, did not — accelerate during the 1960s.
The poverty rate among black families fell from 87 percent in 1940 to 47 percent in 1960, during an era of virtually no major civil rights legislation or anti-poverty programs. It dropped another 17 percentage points during the decade of the 1960s and one percentage point during the 1970s, but this continuation of the previous trend was neither unprecedented nor something to be arbitrarily attributed to the programs like the War on Poverty.
As Sowell notes, the poverty rate dropped from 87% of blacks to 47% of blacks in just 20 years without any social programs. And, in fact, by 1966, on the eve of the implementation of the Great Society, poverty had dropped to 41.8% of blacks. That’s a drop of 45.2% in 26 years. From 1966 until 2005, however, the poverty dropped only 20.3% (as noted above, 2005 poverty for blacks was 24.9%). Thus, in the 26 years prior to the Great Society, poverty among blacks dropped more than twice the amount it has in the 40 years since the Great Society. Got that? Look at those numbers again: in the 26 years prior to the Great Society, poverty among blacks dropped more than twice the amount it has in the 40 years since the Great Society. It dropped twice as much in a little more than half the time before the all-wise government decided to lend a hand. And didn’t Johnson’s Great Society speech tell us we would make the changes “in the next 40 years”? Clearly, the Great Society has slowed progress in defeating poverty.
But Sowell has more:
Government social programs such as the War on Poverty were considered a way to reduce urban riots. Such programs increased sharply during the 1960s. So did urban riots. Later, during the Reagan administration, which was denounced for not promoting social programs, there were far fewer urban riots…In various skilled trades, the incomes of blacks relative to whites more than doubled between 1936 and 1959 — that is, before the magic 1960s decade when supposedly all progress began. The rise of blacks in professional and other high-level occupations was greater in the five years preceding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than in the five years afterwards.
Certainly, the outlook for many blacks has improved. As noted above, while 24.9% of blacks continue to live in poverty, the other 75.1% do not. Further, in 1967, the median income for whites (adjusted to 2005 values) was $36,895. In 2005 it was $48,554. For blacks, the median income was $21,422 and $30,858, respectively. That is a 31% increase for whites and a 30% increase for blacks.
Thus, some blacks are doing better than they were. But the question remains: why, as of 2005, are one quarter of all blacks still living in poverty? And why are blacks making, on average, $18,000 less than whites? Clearly, we have not eradicated poverty. But why has the Great Society and its good intentions been such a failure for so many?
“In 1960, it (welfare) was so meager that only a small set of young women at the very bottom layer of society could think it was ‘enough’ to enable a woman to keep a baby without a husband,” writes Murray in the July issue of Commentary.
“By 1970, it was ‘enough,’ both in the resources it provided and in the easier terms under which it could be obtained, to enable a broad stratum of low-income women to keep a baby without a husband,” he adds. “That remains true today.”
Kaus puts it more succinctly.
“Without AFDC [welfare],” said Kaus, “the culture of single motherhood could not sustain itself…
Kaus and other critics also blame the food stamp program for encouraging welfare dependency.
That program was in fact part of Johnson’s Great Society legacy, beginning in 1965. During Johnson’s term, it ballooned from 424,000 participants to 2.2 million, according to the Department of Agriculture…
Welfare critics point to a steady decline in family unity since the explosion of the mid-’60s. It’s no coincidence the two are happening at the same time, they say.
According to the Census Bureau, a single-parent family is six times more likely to be poor – and thus a recipient of welfare – than a two-parent family. Women heading families are particularly vulnerable.
In 1980, there were 6.2 million families headed by single women, making up 19.4% of all families with children. By 1990, that number had risen to 8.4 million families, or 24.2% of the total.
Blacks have been especially hard hit.
The percentage of black households headed by women grew from 28% to 40% between 1970 and 1980.
At the beginning of World War II, the illegitimate birth rate among black Americans was slightly less than 19%. Between 1955 and 1965 – the year of the Watts riots and also the start of the War on Poverty – it rose slowly, from 22% to 28%.
But beginning in the late 1960s the slow trend rapidly accelerated, reaching 49% in 1975 and 65% in 1989.
Empirical studies have borne out the theory that welfare is behind much of this disintegration.
For example, a study at the University of Washington showed that an increase of roughly $200 a month in welfare benefits per family correlated with a 150% increase in the illegitimate birth rate among teens.
According to the House Ways and Means Committee “Green Book” for 1990, about 40% of parents collecting AFDC were black, 38% white and 17% Hispanic. Blacks make up about 12% of the population, while Hispanics make up about 9% of the population.
The Green Book took its data from the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Family Assistance of the Family Support Administration.
The concept of welfare dependency was also bolstered recently by a study by David Elwood of Harvard University. He found that of the 3.8 million families currently on AFDC, well over half will remain dependent for more than 10 years, many others for 15 years or longer.
So the Great Society slowed the progress of the actual “war on poverty” by declaring a “War on Poverty” and making it actually possible to survive in a broken home at the poverty level. This ability to survive in a broken home at the poverty level perpetuated poverty, creating a class of dependents unable to escape poverty.
But this should be evident, even without empirical data. Providing someone with the ability to survive at the poverty level and not requiring them to earn even a penny certainly will create dependency, especially at the second and third generational levels. Where people used to have to work and make responsible choices or face dire consequences, people can now survive at a basic level without effort while continuing to make poor decisions. These values are then passed on to their kin, children with few positive role models, and the cycle is repeated.
But, again, this is evident. So why do we need to back up the obvious with proof of the obvious? Because politicians continue to try and convince people of the opposite. Politicians know that it is easier to tell people that they will give them a handout until they get back on their feet, rather than be honest and tell them that they aren’t getting a handout, that they’ll need to work and make better decisions, and that this is in their long-term best interest.
Bottom line: what demographic most “benefited from” (i.e. “used”) the entitlements created by the Great Society? Blacks. How is the demographic that was to most benefit from the Great Society actually doing? As a demographic, blacks are still the poorest, their families are broken, and drugs and crime infest many of their neighborhoods.
More: Interesting reading on blacks and lower IQs (links below synopsis).
Basic premise: due to slavery and other forms of institutionalized racism in America, blacks, as a percentage of the population, have lower IQs than whites. Society, in response to slavery and institutionalized racism and the resulting IQ gap between blacks and whites, “over-corrected” with affirmative action and other race-based preferential treatment programs that make it “easier” for under-qualified minority individuals to get into schools and work positions they have not earned. These policies have proven to have further hindered black Americans from “catching up” after slavery and other instances of institutionalized racism, etc., because if blacks do not have to attain the grades that whites do to get into the same schools, they don’t! “If you subjected blacks to environment [sic] and cultural conditions that rewarded high intellect, competition and technical innovation first and foremost and made it hard to survive and thrive without these traits, you’d see a positive change in average IQ.” Thus, the author argues that a removal of affirmative action and related policies would force blacks to earn the higher positions/grades, etc. the same as whites, which they eventually would, leading to a smarter group of people and a lessening of the “IQ gap” at a much more rapid rate than is currently feasible. This is basically the same point I made above when discussing welfare benefits: as more welfare benefits were given, the more women ended up on welfare. At first, welfare benefits were not enough to sustain a single-parent family. Once benefits increased to the point so that a single-parent family could actually survive on welfare alone, single-parent families ballooned, as did single-parent families living on welfare (and, as noted, due to institutional factors, the majority of the poor were black, thus disproportionately affecting them more negatively as compared to whites). Correlation: as long as blacks are able to rely on affirmative action and quotas to get ahead in school and at the workplace, they’ll continue to do so. As soon as they are required to earn it (i.e. as soon as those single mothers are forced to make ends meet on their own), they will. That is, as long as blacks can get a C+ and get into the same college as a white kid with an A, they will continue to get a C+. When blacks are forced to also get an A, they will eventually get an A.
Second point: IQ levels are not innate to any demographic, but are factors of environment, history, etc. Not for the politically correct.