America’s war on poverty turned 50 years old this week, and plenty of people have concluded that, as President Reagan put it: “We fought a war on poverty, and poverty won.”
That perception shapes the right’s suspicion of food stamps, minimum-wage raises and extensions of unemployment benefits. A reader named Frank posted on my Facebook page: “All the government aid/handouts in the world will not make people better parents. This is why the ideas from the left, although always made with the best of intentions, never work. ... All of this aid is wasted.”
Yet a careful look at the evidence suggests that such a view is flat wrong. In fact, the first lesson of the war on poverty is that we can make progress against poverty, but that it’s an uphill slog.