That has been the consensus from research done on the Great Society programs of the 1960s, which are still largely with us, which this article from Crisis Magazine examines.

An excerpt.

The Obama presidency has been distinguished for unprecedented levels of federal social welfare spending. In his second term, President Obama is pursuing new and expanded federal anti-poverty initiatives. There has been a sharp increase in the food-stamp and Children’s Health Insurance programs. Obama has proposed more federal funding for Head Start and pre-school education generally, job training for laid-off workers, and Medicaid. In fact, the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has bloated the Medicaid rolls. He is even seeking free federally subsidized community college education. I have seen numbers ranging from 79 to 126 federal programs aimed at reducing poverty and an annual price tag of $668 to $927 billion. The number of programs and cost figures vary depending on how one wants to categorize the different programs. Apparently, it isn’t enough for Obama. He wants more.

It’s the appropriate time to examine the federal anti-poverty effort, since this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of President Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” when the federal government entered this arena in earnest in an ongoing way. LBJ proclaimed an objective of fashioning “a society of success without squalor.” The obvious question is: What has been the effect?

About the War on Poverty itself, I wrote in The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic that there is, to put it mildly, much doubt among historians and other scholars about whether it was successful. How much it was even needed is in question. The overwhelmingly Democratic Congress at the time seemed to just rubber-stamp LBJ’s domestic policy agenda. Historian Allen J. Matusow of Rice University writes, for example, that there is no evidence that Medicaid provided easier access to health care for the poor or better quality care than the previous charity care. He also says that Medicare—another Great Society initiative—has not significantly affected the lifespan of the elderly. What did happen in the decades afterwards was that these programs added considerably to the increase of health care costs that began with the introduction of private insurance plans in the 1950s. The main economic effects of these programs, according to Matusow, were to transfer income from middle-class taxpayers to middle-class health care professionals and create new inequalities among the states and among the welfare and non-welfare poor. This was a good example of the problem of unintended consequences of government programs—although they might have been at least somewhat foreseeable if better research had been done in the first place.

Head Start has been shown not to give pupils any enduring academic advantage. In fact, there has long been a question generally about whether it is academically counterproductive to start formal schooling at too young of an age. If this is the case, one wonders why Obama wants to pump more money into preschool programs. Perhaps his strong support from teachers unions has something to do with it. There are a lot of jobs at stake. I remember years back someone from the educational community writing that it shouldn’t pay attention to the higher levels of education anymore because the real action—that is, job expansion—was in early-childhood schooling. Actually, Obama’s community college proposal may get the teachers unions chortling anew at the other end. Never mind, of course, that higher education—especially community colleges—is already suffering a decimation of standards because of a flood of academically unqualified students. Another freebie will only exacerbate that.

The revelations in the last few years about inflated placement claims and other problems in the Job Corps program, another LBJ legacy, should give pause to anyone who thinks that federally-funded job training programs are likely to be a smashing success.

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