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Graph showing the 2012 poverty rate with and without the safety net. With: 16.0% Without: 28.7%

You'll hear a lot of Republicans claiming that they don't hate poor people and do want to reduce poverty—they just happen to think that all the things the United States currently does to reduce poverty and help poor people are wrong. It's not that they want people to go hungry, they say, it's just that food stamps make people dependent, by taking away their incentive to forage through dumpsters, we can only guess. (After all, most people on food stamps either work or fall into groups we don't expect to work, like children, senior citizens, and disabled people.) But as the graph above shows, the safety net dating back 50 years to the War on Poverty does work, despite the giant holes Republicans have cut in it.

Zachary Goldfarb, though, makes the case for a terrible failure of the War on Poverty:

... to the degree that the War on Poverty should have led U.S. companies to pay their workers adequate wages and prompted sufficient enough demand to ensure full employment, the war has been a failure. If you return to the interactive chart above, and click on "poverty rate without the safety net," you'll see that 28.7 percent of the country would be in poverty today without government policies to help them -- actually higher than it was 50 years ago.

And so, in that sense, it's hard to say we've won the War on Poverty when nearly 1 in 3 Americans lacks, without the government's help, the sustenance necessary to meet the basic needs of  life.

Of course, in the early years of the War on Poverty, the minimum wage increased steadily, reaching an inflation-adjusted high of more than $10.50 an hour in 1968. Since then, it's declined, falling below the equivalent of $8.00 an hour (in 2012 dollars) in the early 1980s and never getting back to that level since. That leads to what we see now, with employees of hugely profitable corporations forced to rely on government assistance because Walmart and Target and McDonald's and Papa John's don't pay enough for even full-time workers to survive.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 07:51 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This issue is a no-brainer. (3+ / 0-)

    It's a hill the GOP will die on.

    "We the People of the United States...." -U.S. Constitution

    by elwior on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 08:32:16 AM PST

  •  The Filthy Rich Have the Same Rights as the Poor (7+ / 0-)

    to sleep under bridges, beg for change, and dumpster dive for food.

  •  Biggest Cause Of Poverty Is Low Wages (6+ / 0-)

       I've been using this little soundbite lately. Rightwingers have no answer for it.

       If we had an actual center-left political party, you'd probably hear it in the media sometimes.

    "Le ciel est bleu, l'enfer est rouge."

    by Buzzer on Sat Feb 22, 2014 at 06:46:28 PM PST

  •  Higher wages and a standard of life. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mary Mike

    Why the hell can't it be a law that a human being is worth caring for. oh wait, it expires at birth.

    A true craftsman will meticulously construct the apparatus of his own demise.

    by onionjim on Sat Feb 22, 2014 at 06:58:18 PM PST

  •  The reason (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson, NoMoreLies

    we have so many struggling people is that economic policies are increasingly crafted to steal from working people their hard-earned salaries, pensions, sick leave, steady hours, job security, and right to organize.  Meanwhile, the same policies are structured to assist the company owners and their various bankers, brokers and tax accountants in vacuuming up the resultant loot and keeping it for themselves.  Some of that loot is stashed offshore to protect it from being violated by taxes, and some of it is used to buy legislators whose votes abet these crimes.

    What the GOP--for all their bone-headedness, racism, xenophobia and ersatz religiosity--are really good at, is convincing poor schmoes to vote for this reverse Robin Hood scheme of government.  They get a lot of foolish people to sign on to policies that rob these same people of steady middle class jobs at living wages, and to do so eagerly.  They convince lots of folks who are dangling on the precipice that taxes on the wealthy, unions, unemployment and health insurance, Medicaid and Medicare, public education, job protections, environmental safeguards are really bad for them.  

    I find it astonishing how easy it is to hoodwink people into voting for their own economic destruction.  All it seems to take is a little racist dog whistling, a few misused phrases that include "socialism" or "communism" and a touch of phony piety, and they're snagged.  

    "It ain't right, Atticus," said Jem. "No, son, it ain't right." --Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

    by SottoVoce on Sat Feb 22, 2014 at 06:59:54 PM PST

  •  So... government DOES cause dependence (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson, NoMoreLies, Sue B, ebohlman

    ... in the 1%.  

    The "job creators" know that if they underpay their employees, they can depend on other Americans helping the poor employees out.  

    If they don't underpay their employees, they'll have to take home less themselves this year (as profits and bonuses drop at first).  Their lifestyle, net worth, and self-esteem literally depend on the largesse of the American people, via their federal government.

    Which means that all their hubbub about being "dependent" on the government is just projection.  

    Like every other conservative accusation.

    Nobody deserves poverty.

    by nominalize on Sat Feb 22, 2014 at 07:01:29 PM PST

    •  Kudos for saying "at first" (0+ / 0-)

      The 1% are also subject to the hoodwinking that SottoVoce wrote about; most of them would actually do objectively better in a high-wage economy since there would be larger markets for their goods and services. There are really only two sub-groups who would be hurt or feel like they were hurt:

      1) The sadistic sociopaths whose sense of self-worth depends purely on having lots of people they can feel superior to and boss around. This is a small, though disproportionately influential, group. A civilized society has no need to indulge this form of mental illness; any good these people do for the economy is far outweighed by the harm they do.

      2) Those who derive, or attempt to derive, their wealth from activities that do not actually involve providing products or services to customers and thus primarily involve increasing their personal share of an existing pie rather than making a bigger pie. These activities can generally be characterized as either gambling (self-explanatory) or rent-seeking (grabbing increasingly large portions of the revenue generated by other people's productive activities).

      Although diehard anti-capitalists might argue that 2) is what capitalism inherently becomes, I'm more optimistic and think that it's a perversion of capitalism that doesn't have to happen; it only happens when checks and balances go AWOL. Markets need some level of external controls, including but not limited to government regulation. How much of such control is necessary or even helpful is debateable, but "none" is not within the limits of rational debate.

      The early philosophical proponents of capitalism (e.g. Smith) were quite aware of these tendencies and very emphatically warned against letting them take hold. Most of the worst economic thinking of the last 50 years has been based on ignoring those warnings, either by convincing ourselves that we've somehow evolved past the need for such controls (e.g. Friedman) or simply thinking that we can wish personal adolescent fantasies into reality (e.g. Rand).

      Unfortunately when smart and educated people get crazy ideas they can come up with plausibly truthy arguments. -- Andrew F Cockburn

      by ebohlman on Sun Feb 23, 2014 at 04:10:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I cannot understand why we act (0+ / 0-)

    as if the "War on Poverty" didn't end in unconditional surrender during the Reagan administration. Didn't Reagan actually say "the War on Poverty is over, and Poverty won"?

    "All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out." --I.F. Stone

    by Alice in Florida on Sat Feb 22, 2014 at 07:17:21 PM PST

  •  Rose-colored minimum wage glasses. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Here are current dollar minimum wage levels from the early days of the Great Society -- but please see the note below:

    1964 =  9.43
    1965 =  9.28
    1966 =  9.02
    1967 =  9.80
    1968 = 10.71
    1969 = 10.20
    1970 =   9.65
    1971 =   9.24
    1972 =   8.95
    1973 =   8.43
    1974 =   9.45

    Current wage equivalents were crudely calculated with the BLS calculator here:

    A more sophisticated adjustment will change the amounts slightly, but not the pattern and not the story it tells.

    LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

    by dinotrac on Sat Feb 22, 2014 at 07:19:06 PM PST

  •  The ACA and working (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    We have seen in the reports over the past couple weeks that the ACA is allowing people to choose not to work, to choose to work less, or to peruse their own income generating opportunities.

    It may be that if the government provides a safety net, then we would have an economy where individauls are more free to take risks, less forced into corporate jobs, and better able to negotiate a higher pay.  One reason why certain groups earn less money, for instance, is that they tend to be under employed.  If the safety net let everyone explore risky opportunities, then everyone's pay would go up.

    It is all interconnected.  The constant bickering over SNAP, the constant bickering over the minimum wage, the constant limits on organization of workers while allowing corporate to collude as they please, it is there to keep the system of wage slavery in place.

    Getting free money to feed oneself isn't less moral. Working a job that does not allow one to support oneself is not necessarily more moral.  There is a societal benefit to having everyone at a comfortable level.

  •  The Minimum Wage Is a Key Component (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    We need to focus more on the minimum wage. That means both the domestic and international minimum wage.

    Our opponents are trying to impoverish people, so that they can eliminate opposition. They've done a good job, too.

  •  Laura's point is well taken (0+ / 0-)

    Goldfarb's discussion of whether the "war on poverty" has been won is like discussing whether the "war on terror" has been won. Both are rhetorical wars and no one expects either poverty or acts of terror to be eliminated. It is a pretty silly question.

    One can examine if the programs considered to make up the "war on poverty" have worked to reduce poverty but even that is not fair since those programs don't exist in a vacuum. They are competing with the war for poverty which has been waged by  government at several levels and by corporations. Unnecessary austerity, wars that return crippled soldiers, predatory lending, immigration policies that keep folks in the shadows, making it harder for folks to access anti-poverty programs, the historically unaffordable health care, laws that permit discrimination in the workplace, anti-union laws, etc etc.

    "Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops." General Buck Turgidson

    by muledriver on Sat Feb 22, 2014 at 10:42:14 PM PST

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