On this day in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an unconditional war on poverty in America during his State of the Union address. Six decades later, the nation has made tremendous strides, including a sizable reduction in the poverty rate as Americans enjoy an improved standard of living. Yet we have not won the war. Success has come almost entirely from government transfer payments to poor households, not from improvements in the foundational aspects of a flourishing life.
The foundation of a thriving life reflects our collective values, such as getting an education, working hard, and raising a family. However, many of our safety-net policies do not align with these objectives. Our safety-net programs disincentivize work and marriage, and many low-income children still cannot access quality education due to our government’s policies. This is almost certainly not what President Johnson had in mind when he declared a “War on Poverty.”