War on Poverty: 92 Federal Programs Costing $799 Billion per Year, Of Which 36 Percent Is Health Spending

Fifty years after President Johnson declared “war on poverty”, House Budget Committee Chairman has released a report on federal anti-poverty programs. The tally includes:

  • 8 different health programs, costing $291.3 billion (36 percent);
  • 5 different cash-aid programs, costing $220 billion (28 percent);
  • 17 different food-aid programs, costing $105 billion (13 percent);
  • 28 different education and job-training programs, costing $94.4 billion (12 percent);
  • 22 different housing programs, costing $49.6 billion (6 percent).

Beyond the bewildering complexity of the anti-poverty programs, the report notes that:

…[A] large problem is the “poverty trap.” There are so many anti-poverty programs — and there is so little coordination between them — that they often work at cross purposes and penalize families for getting ahead…CBO finds that some low-income households face implicit marginal tax rates of nearly 100 percent.

Comments (25)

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  1. Thomas says:

    The anti-poverty programs are so costly and numerous, they likely get in the way of each other. Yet is it helping the poverty issue? Unlikely.

    • Andrew says:

      Well they penalize families for getting ahead. This provides incentive to just stay and poverty and take the aid they are provided. There is definitely enough money behind the programs.

      • James M. says:

        The war on poverty is hardly over partly because it is increasingly easily livable to be in poverty. As long as people can scrape by with doing minimal work, they will.

        • Franz O says:

          Why would someone work more if by doing so they will lose more than what they gain? That is what the article means by “getting ahead.” The programs are penalizing those who make an effort to leave poverty. If they earn more than the poverty line: they will lose the shelter subsidy, they won’t receive aid for healthcare. These individuals that try to escape poverty will earn fifty dollars more (for example) a week, but will lose benefits of a nominal value of 100 dollars per week. The government is creating the problem, they are solely responsible. Stating that these individuals are taking advantage is blaming them for the government’s mistake. (Obviously there are some that might be trying to beat the system, but they are a small percentage.)

    • Ford says:

      These anti-poverty programs may bring some people out of poverty, but they also breeds laziness leading to an eternal harm toward American Dream.

  2. Matthew says:

    “Fifty years after President Johnson declared “war on poverty”

    Fifty year war that we are not even close to winning.

    • Buddy says:

      With the billions and billions of dollars being put into aid programs, I’d say were on the losing end.

    • Blake R says:

      Maybe we are not close to win the war, but those 50 years have made a difference for those who live in poverty. Perhaps poverty hasn’t been eradicated, but millions have received aid, which allowed them to have a better quality of life.

      • Matthew says:

        A better quality of life, while still remaining in poverty.

        • Quiver says:


        • Blake R says:

          But what is poverty? I mean being poor is should not be determined by a certain amount of income that one makes throughout the year, it should be measured by the capability of the people to access the basic necessities. If people are receiving the benefits of the state and they can access the basic needs (food, shelter, health, etc.) what does it matter if they are under or over the poverty line, they have a decent quality of life. Remember that poverty line is an arbitrary number; it has changed throughout time (sometimes for political reasons, sometimes due to the changes in society). We cannot say that the war on poverty has been a failure, because the levels of undernourishment have significantly decreased since these programs started. The amount of homeless has decreased. The war on poverty hasn’t been a lost cause. It has yielded significant results and has improved the quality of life of many.
          If you don’t believe me, compare a person living in poverty here in the United States, to a person living in poverty somewhere else in the world. The one living in America will look like a king in comparison.

          • Matthew says:

            But how are they getting access to their basic needs? Through government run programs. The issue I have is that they are not providing themselves with these basic needs, but are relying on government programs and aid. They need to find a way to become self reliant to get their basic needs, not live off government aid. The longer they remain complacent to not lift themselves out of poverty, the war on poverty will continue. Government aid encourages complacency.

            • Blake R says:

              Yes, they probably are getting the basic needs from a government run program. But, they have to meet certain standards to qualify to this aid, not everyone is drinking beer in their backyard waiting for the government’s check. Also, look at what the article is stating these individuals are facing marginal taxes of 100 percent or more. Meaning for working more they are making less in total. The problem is that the government punishes those who try to leave poverty.

              • Matthew says:

                They receive less in total because of the transfers they receive. The root of the issue is the government aid. Instead of encouraging the “pick yourself up from your bootstraps” mentality is gone. But you have to admit people are less incentivized to get out of poverty due to this aid.

                • Blake R says:

                  True, the government aids are making poor individuals less incentivized or maybe they are negatively incentivized to earn more. I agree the government plans are flawed. But, that doesn’t mean that the war on poverty hasn’t been effective. Millions of people are enjoying a better life quality thanks to these aids. They are significantly better off that they would be otherwise. Maybe the war on poverty programs won’t eradicate poverty, but they provide a decent quality of life to those who can’t afford one.

  3. Perry says:

    Looks like the home-grown wars on poverty and drugs aren’t going so well.

  4. Paul F says:

    We need to improve the efficiency of these programs. If all these programs were handled by a single authority, chances are the aid is being received by those who need it. We cannot say that the programs are failing; it is the government bureaucracies that make them seem as a failure.

  5. Bubba says:

    The war on poverty is futile. If we eradicate poverty, more poor people will immigrate here. On the other hand, if we tax poverty, maybe all the poor people will leave.

    • Mark says:

      Leave? Where are they going to go? Most of the individuals receiving these benefits are born here in America. Even though the amount of illegal immigrants that live under the poverty line is significant, they don’t qualify for any of these programs. So those who you are asking to leave are your fellow citizens, who have the same rights as you.

  6. John R. Graham says:

    Both Ryan’s report and the comments here ignore the major beneficiaries of the programs: Those who administer them.

    Ryan’s report would have benefited from a headcount of the government employees who work in these programs.

  7. Ian Random says:

    I heard that every poor person is on multiple programs that penalize that program for every dollar, so if they are on three programs, then every dollar they earn takes away three.

    • Rebecca Voorhies says:

      Define “poor person”. A senior citizen trying to live off what social security allotment given to them, taking half-amount of medications and eating whatever they can collect from a food pantry? A past-middle-age worker still looking for employment after being downsized? The perennially poor with a family history of working the welfare system, spitting out babies for the additional largess, using their food stamps for non-necessities (Walmart doesn’t care what they buy), not finishing school as there’s no support or INCENTIVE to do so. Always thought drug tests should determine welfare receipt.

  8. Ian Random says:

    Google says 46 million below the line, so about $16500/per poor person.