War on Poverty still exists; questions persist

Dear Editor,
On Jan. 8, 1964, then President Lyndon B. Johnson in his State of the Union address declared "War on Poverty."
The speech led the United States Congress to pass the Economic Opportunity Act, which established the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) to administer the local application of federal funds targeted against poverty.
As a part of the Great Society, Johnson believed in expanding the government's role in education and health care as poverty reduction strategies.
President Johnson's "War on Poverty" speech was delivered at a time of recovery (the poverty level had fallen from 22.4 percent in 1959 to 19 percent in 1964 when the War on Poverty was announced) and it was viewed by critics as an effort to get the United States Congress to authorize social welfare programs.
Fifty years later, we're losing that war. Fifteen percent of Americans still live in poverty, according to the official census poverty report for 2012, unchanged since the mid-1960s.
The federal government currently runs more than 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care and targeted social services to poor and low-income Americans. Government spent $916 billion on these programs in 2012 alone, and roughly 100 million Americans received aid from at least one of them, (That figure doesn't include Social Security or Medicare benefits.) Federal and state welfare spending, adjusted for inflation, is 16 times greater than it was in 1964.
Our country has invested $20.7 trillion in 2011 dollars over the past 50 years. LBJ promised that the war on poverty would be an "investment" that would "return its cost manifold to the entire economy." America is now at a rate of spending over $1.0 trillion per year. So how large of a number are we looking at for the next 50 years?
To put the $20.7 trillion invested on "War on Poverty" since 1964 in prospective; Social Security has paid out $11.3 trillion through 2009. Social Security which was passed on August 14, 1935 began to collect the first taxes in 1937 and through 2009 has collected $13.8 trillion.
In almost three quarters of a century; 75 years, Social Security has paid out $11.3 trillion. This is just over half, 54.6 percent of the $20.7 trillion the "War on Poverty" has spent in just a half century, 50 years.
The Brookings Institution conducted a study in 2012, and whittled down a lot of the analysis in three simple rules for staying out of poverty: 1) Graduating from high school, 2) Having a full-time job and 3) Waiting to get married until after 21 and do not have children till after being married. This is not another government program, this is doing what we know is right, and best for our future. Personal decisions trump anything the government can do. These decisions are about being responsible!
If you do all those three things, your chance of falling into poverty is just 2 percent. Meanwhile, you'll have a 74 percent chance of being in the middle class.
These rules apply to all races and ethnic groups. Breaking these rules is becoming more commonplace, unfortunately, for all groups.
By contrast, young adults who violated all three norms - dropped out, got married before 21 and had children out of wedlock and didn't have a full-time job - had a 76 percent chance of winding up in poverty and a 7 percent chance of winding up in the middle class.
Ben Kinlaw,
Barnwell