“Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it. No single piece of legislation, however, is going to suffice.”

— President Lyndon Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. Since then, Washington has created dozens of programs and spent trillions of dollars. But few people have stopped to ask, “Are they working?”

In “The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later,” the House Budget Committee majority staff starts to answer that question.

There are at least 92 federal programs designed to help lower-income Americans. For instance, there are dozens of education and job-training programs, 17 different food-aid programs, and over 20 housing programs. The federal government spent $799 billion on these programs in fiscal year 2012.

Program Area # Of Federal Programs Cost In FY2012
Cash aid  5  $220 billion
Education and job training  28  $94.4 billion
Energy  2  $3.9 billion
Food aid  17  $105 billion
Health care  8  $291.3 billion
Housing  22  $49.6 billion
Social Services  8  $13 billion
Veterans  2  $21.8 billion
TOTALS  92  $799 billion

But rather than provide a roadmap out of poverty, Washington has created a complex web of programs that are often difficult to navigate. Some programs provide critical aid to families in need. Others discourage families from getting ahead. And for many of these programs, we just don’t know. There’s little evidence either way.

So in a spirit of reform, this report hopes to inform the public debate. This important anniversary is an opportunity to review the record in full. And we should seize it.

Initiative Documents