It probably won’t come as much of a surprise to learn that most Americans regard the War on Poverty as a failure. According to a new YouGov poll, conducted for the Cato Institute, 77 percent of Americans call it “ineffective.” This includes 80 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats. In this age of political polarization, that represents an extraordinary bipartisan consensus. But what many might find to be even more extraordinary is that the vast majority of poor Americans agree, too. Fully 63 percent of people receiving welfare today say that the War on Poverty has not succeeded. Given the $26 trillion that the United States has spent fighting poverty since Lyndon Johnson declared war on it in 1965, that’s a scathing indictment.
Of course, the poor may think the War on Poverty failed because $26 trillion wasn’t enough. Maybe they worry their benefits are simply too low. That’s not the case. When asked whether the government had the ability to end poverty even with unlimited spending, 58 percent of welfare recipients said that it could not.
So what do the poor think the government should do to help them escape poverty? An overwhelming 59 percent of welfare recipients say that the government should focus on eliminating the underlying causes of poverty, as opposed to “giving what money we have to poor people to help them get on their feet.” Most significantly, 76 percent of welfare recipients believe that increased economic growth will do more to reduce poverty than would increasing welfare spending. In fact, welfare recipients were more likely to prefer economic growth than registered Democrats (67 percent).