Fifty years since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the “War on Poverty,” an official yardstick for measuring poverty suggests that social welfare programs have brought about only a limited success. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation’s poverty rate stood at 15 percent in 2012, a modest drop from 19 percent in 1964.
But census officials are quick to note that their poverty yardstick, which was devised in the 1960s and considers only cash income, “does not reflect the key government policies enacted since that time to help low-income individuals meet their needs.” Researchers of alternative measures, which account for government benefits like food stamps, say a host of federal antipoverty programs have prevented the poverty rate from climbing far higher.
Still, even ardent supporters of such programs acknowledge that much more work lies ahead–especially given that a yawning poverty gap continues to exist among different groups. In 2012, African Americans and Latinos were nearly three times as likely to live in poverty as white individuals. Single-parent families were also more likely to be poor than the national average, but female-headed families were faring much worse than male-headed ones, being nearly twice as likely to live in poverty.
[Photo by Filipe Matos Frazao/Shutterstock]