The Slatest

Trump Administration Declares War on Poverty “Largely Over” Because of Huge Success

A homeless man sleeps beside his makeshift temporary shelter on a street in downtown Los Angeles, California on June 25, 2018.
A homeless man sleeps beside his makeshift temporary shelter on a street in downtown Los Angeles, California on June 25, 2018.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/Getty Images

Republicans have long railed against the country’s social safety nets as expensive and inefficient. The long-running War on Poverty was frequently a target for these critics who were fond of saying it was a huge failure that did not actually help a significant number of Americans out of poverty. But now the Trump administration is trying a new tactic, saying that the reason why social safety net programs need to change is because the War on Poverty was actually a huge success.

President Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers declared in a report earlier this week that the war on poverty “is largely over and a success,” saying only around three percent of Americans are really poor and the best way to help them is to boost the economy as a whole.

“Over the past 54 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of a War on Poverty, federal spending on welfare programs targeting low-income households has grown dramatically, contributing to a substantial reduction in material hardship,” the White House Council of Economic Advisers wrote, noting the programs had contributed to help poverty plunge by 90 percent.

That new messaging strategy provides fresh support for the administrations stated goal of tying public benefits to work requirements more closely. The report argues that more than half of those who are not disabled and receive benefits work fewer than 20 hours per week. “Expanding work requirements in these noncash welfare programs would improve self-sufficiency,” the report said, “with little risk of substantially reversing progress in addressing material hardship.”

Many are criticizing the White House for understating the problem of poverty in the United States. And they also see this latest report as part of a strategy to demonize the poor to make it easier to cut social programs. “It’s all part of a carefully calculated strategy to reinforce myths about the people these programs help,” Rebecca Vallas, the vice president of the poverty to prosperity program at the liberal Center for American Progress, told the New York Times. The ultimate goal is “to smear these programs with a dog-whistle of welfare, in order to make them easier to cut.”