I thought the era of "Big Government" was over. Bill Clinton said so. But apparently, throwing gobs of money at social problems is very popular among Democrats and the Obama White House.
Despite an unprecedented increase in federal anti-poverty spending, the national poverty rate has not declined, the study finds.
"[S]ince President Obama took office [in January 2009], federal welfare spending has increased by 41 percent, more than $193 billion per year," the study says.
Federal welfare spending in fiscal year 2011 totaled $668 billion, spread out over 126 programs, while the poverty rate that remains high at 15.1 percent, roughly where it was in 1965, when President Johnson declared a federal War on Poverty.
In 1966, the first year after Johnson declared war on poverty, the national poverty rate was 14.7 percent, according to Census Bureau figures. Over time, the poverty rate has fluctuated in a narrow range between 11 and 15 percent, only falling into the 11 percent range for a few years in the late 1970's.
The federal poverty rate is the percentage of the population below the federal poverty threshold, which varies based on family size.
While the study concedes that some of the increased spending under Obama is a result of the recession and the counter-cyclical nature of anti-poverty programs, it also finds that some of the increase is deliberate, with the government having expanded eligibility for welfare programs.
In fiscal year 2008, anti-poverty spending was $475 billion. In fiscal year 2009, when Obama took office, it had risen to $590 billion.
Looks like we're going to have to win this argument all over again. Fighting poverty is not a question of increaing the amount of social spending, as the Cato study points out:
"The vast majority of current programs are focused on making poverty more comfortable - giving poor people more food, better shelter, health care, and so forth - rather than giving people the tools that will help them escape poverty."
Instead, the study recommends refocusing anti-poverty efforts on keeping people in school, discouraging out-of-wedlock births, and encouraging people to get a job - even if that job is a low-wage one.
"It would make sense therefore to shift our anti-poverty efforts from government programs that simply provide money or goods and services to those who are living in poverty to efforts to create the conditions and incentives that will make it easier for people to escape poverty."
One of Obama's first executive orders as president was to roll back welfare reform. He and the Democrats have never approached social spending as an incentive to get people off the dole and back to work. Trapping families for generation after generation in a vicious cycle of dependency on government for survival is the outcome of Democratic notions of anti-poverty spending. It didn't work in the 1970's and it's not working now.