The War on Poverty After 50 Years

Although President Johnson intended the War on Poverty to increase Americans’ capacity for self-support, exactly the opposite has occurred. The vast expansion of the welfare state has dramatically weakened the capacity for self-sufficiency among many Americans by eroding the work ethic and undermining family structure. When Johnson launched the War on Poverty, 7 percent of American children were born outside of marriage. Today, the number is over 40 percent. As the welfare state expanded, marriage stagnated and single parenthood soared. Since the beginning of the War on Poverty, the absolute number of married-couple families with children in official poverty has declined, but as Chart 6 shows, the number of single-parent families in official poverty (or lacking self-sufficiency) has more than tripled, increasing from 1.6 million in 1965 to 4.8 million today. When the War on Poverty began, 36 percent of poor families with children were headed by single parents; today, the figure is 68 percent.

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