In most wars a victor is declared. Yet, there is one war that has raged for more than half a century and there is no winner: the war on poverty. It started under the Lyndon Johnson administration with the best intentions. Now 50 years and $20 trillion later, poverty in this nation has actually grown worse. 

How can the richest nation on earth have 50 million people living in poverty? The answer is that we have substituted a path to employment for a path to dependency. Entitlements that were originally meant as a brief stopover to a better life are now considered career destinations.

We have created a culture of dependency. The American Dream itself is under attack. It is being undermined and redefined. For millions of people, it is no longer about hard work and sacrifice, but access to entitlements. 

Our government has made it so easy to collect benefits for not working that millions have chosen to stay out of the work force. There are some 26 million Americans who are unemployed, underemployed or have simply given up looking. 

While we can point to a sputtering economy for the root cause of our miserable employment numbers, we must also point to failed jobs programs that have actually discouraged people from looking for work and encouraged the collection of benefits. 

A bright spot occurred in 1996 when the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act was passed. It reduced federal cash assistance to the poor and added a work force development component to welfare legislation. The program weaned people off of welfare by limiting payouts and gave strong incentives to get a job.

The result is that unemployment dropped, federal spending on welfare programs dropped and poverty levels started to recede.

Somewhere along the line this program was compromised, and today, unemployment benefits are paid out for up to 99 weeks. That's almost two years of workers forgoing job experience and skill development while they stay at home.

Is it because there are no jobs? No. There are thousands of jobs that are unfilled. It's because millions would rather collect unemployment benefits than a paycheck, and millions more simply lack the skills to gain employment. Those skills aren't going to be learned when they're not in the work force. 

Contributing to the unemployment picture is that the Obama administration has ignored supporting the small businesses and entrepreneurs that create the vast majority of our nation's jobs. 

The truth is that out of the roughly 1 million jobs created during 2013, only 23 percent were full-time jobs. Today in America, only 47 percent of adults have full-time jobs.

So is the answer part-time jobs? Not if you want to end poverty. Today, we have millions of people being pushed into "involuntary part-time workers" — a new phrase that has been added to our lexicon. These are workers who want to work full time but can only find part-time work.

We are becoming a nation of part-time workers, which should concern us all, as part-time workers are five times more likely than full-time workers are to live in poverty.

Raising the minimum wage is not the solution. It will only raise the poverty line. 

We can't simply throw money at poverty and hope it goes away. We need a better plan.

After 50 years, we are no closer to solving poverty than we were then. But we can't simply throw money at poverty and hope it goes away. We need a better plan.

It starts with changing our approach to job creation. Invest in trade schools and vocational training to create the skills where real full-time jobs are awaiting to be filled. 

Give people a pathway to work, not more federal entitlements. The goal for any American must be a full-time job, not a full-time handout. 

Amend the tax code so companies have more funds to invest in innovation, thereby adding jobs.

Get rid of the massive, suffocating regulations plaguing our economy. Start with Dodd-Frank, which is forcing our community bankers out of business because they cannot afford the cost of compliance. Our community bankers have historically been the front line of providing credit to our entrepreneurial community. 

Create an environment whereby the manufacturers that left our country begin coming back home to establish a presence here and hire American workers to produce their products and services.

Let's ensure our businesses have the same access to foreign markets that foreign manufacturers have to our market. This alone would create millions of good-paying jobs.

There are solutions that are imminently doable. It only takes leadership with a vision. 

We don't need a war on poverty — we need a re-evaluation of the policies that have failed to solve poverty so we don't implement the same ill-conceived policies again.

I came across an interesting quote attributed to Muhammad Ali: "Wars of nations are fought to change maps. But wars of poverty are fought to map change."


Neal Asbury
About The Author Neal Asbury [Full Bio]
Neal Asbury, chief executive of The Legacy Companies, has published over 200 articles on global trade issues, writes for Newsmax, and is the author of Conscientious Equity. He frequently appears on cable news programs and hosts the nationally syndicated talk radio show Made In America.

Neal Asbury's Made In America

Talkback (2)

  • Guest (Kirk Harrington)


    Interesting article on the war on poverty. To me the author presents things very starkly and I’m not sure its as black and white as he sees it. I can tell he’s Republican too.

    I am actually for Dodd Frank, but I am also for making it easier for small businesses to do business and innovate. Given the last banking crisis…its clear that regulation needs to exist in some form. I do think though that too much can burden the system.

    I think there may be a place for the social welfare system, especially for those with disabilities, who can’t work, or who are unemployed and can’t find work right away. I do think the welfare system needs to be improved. I actually think the government could learn a lot from my church about it. Our system is about getting people what they need but also helping them find work and provide for themselves. Its also about a giving of offerings and tithings to help sustain the system. This was one of the reasons I was hoping Mitt Romney would become President this last time.

    Without data, I’m not sure the author can back up the statement “It's because millions would rather collect unemployment benefits than a paycheck, and millions more simply lack the skills to gain employment”.
    This kind of thinking is what causes people to think badly about those without work and that are getting welfare checks. Many of these people may have legitimate needs and just can’t get help. Its very easy to put blanket judgements on people…its less easy to really try to understand their situation and address problems at a micro level.

    I think more needs to be done to understand the psychology of poverty and there needs to be serious changes to our economic system in this country if poverty is to be reduced.

  • Guest (Phillip)


    Assisting those who truely need a helping hand is important. Keeping those that are simply taking advantage of the system off the system also is important. Trying to manage this is extremely difficult.

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