War on Poverty

American Families Plan Undermines Families, Self-Fulfillment

When Johnson launched his “war” in 1964, the original goal was to “give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities.” In other words, to have the physiological needs satisfied in order to climb the hierarchy toward greater fulfillment and happiness.

Ironically, Johnson’s efforts and the welfare state have focused exclusively on physical needs but have undermined higher-order human needs. For example, the need for “love, affection and belongingness” is fulfilled primarily within families. It thrives in the strong emotional bonds between wives and husbands and between parents and children.

Regrettably, the growth of the welfare state has coincided with the collapse of the family in low-income communities. When the War on Poverty began, 7% of American children were born outside marriage. Today the number is 41% — and the welfare state has clearly contributed to this decline. Welfare has too often served as a substitute for fathers and husbands, displacing them from the home and limiting their role in society. Even worse, most welfare programs actively impose financial penalties on low-income parents if they marry.

The same is true for the need for self-respect and accomplishment. This need is most typically fulfilled through work. Yet we see a continuing decline in labor force participation among working-age adults. This decline is most pronounced among middle-educated, non-married men. As the welfare state has displaced these men from their traditional roles as husbands and breadwinners, their commitment to work has declined. Thus, the welfare state has doubly impoverished them, depriving them of both marriage and work. It should be no surprise that the opioid crisis occurred predominantly among this group.

Thus, the War on Poverty has harmed the nation with respect to higher-order human need.

Economist Thomas Sowell once said, “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.” The American Families Plan would do just that, making those basic needs more expensive, distantly provided, and ultimately, placing them in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.

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