Terry Jeffrey

Fifty years ago today, in his State of the Union Address, President Lyndon Johnson declared an "unconditional war on poverty in America."

Over the next two years, he massively expanded the federal government, creating Medicaid, Medicare and the food stamp program, and increased federal involvement in public education.

What impact did this have on poverty?

In the mid-1960s, as measured by the Census Bureau, the percentage of Americans living in poverty was on its way down, dropping from 22.4 percent in 1959 to 14.7 percent by 1966.

Yet, since Johnson declared his war on poverty in 1964, the poverty rate has never dropped below 11.1 percent (the level it hit in 1973) and there has been only one three-year period when it persisted above 15 percent.

That was the last three years on record -- 2010, 2011, 2012.

But what causes some people to be relatively poorer than others in the United States?

The Census Bureau determines who is in poverty by placing them on a scale that measures income by family size. In 2012, a single person under 65 would be in poverty if he or she earned less than $11,945. A family of nine with seven children under 18 would be in poverty if they earned less than $46,165.

In 1964, 19.0 percent of Americans fell below the federal poverty level. But they were not equally distributed demographically. Members of families were less likely to be in poverty (17.4 percent) than Americans overall. But Americans in families headed by a female with no husband present were far more likely to be in poverty (44.4 percent) than Americans overall.

Since 1964, the poverty rate for people in families headed by females without husbands has never dropped below the 28.5 percent it hit in 2000. In 2012, it was 33.9 percent.

Could differences in family structure contribute to differences in family income?

In 2012, households headed by females without a spouse had a median income of $30,686. Households headed by a male without a spouse had a median income of $42,358. Households with married couples had a median income of $75,535.

What about children? Could they make a difference?

Single women did better if they had no children. The median income for a female householder who had no children was $42,147 in 2012. The median income for a single woman who had one or more children 18 or younger was $25,493.

But married couples did better with children. The median income for a married couple with no children under 18 was $70,902. The median income for a married couple with one or more children under 18 was $81,455.


Terry Jeffrey

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews

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