LBJ’s “War on Poverty” Hurt Black Americans

Five Decades After: Black Progress Hurt by Expansion in Government, Welfare

Black Activists Criticize Handout Mentality that Destroyed Traditional Families

Washington, D.C. – Fifty years ago today, before a joint session of Congress, President Lyndon Baines Johnson announced an “unconditional war on poverty in America.” Today, black activists with the Project 21 leadership network are critical of how that war has been waged. They note the expansion of government and a strategy focused on handouts that discourage self-improvement caused more harm than help to the poor.


“Five decades after President Johnson initiated the ‘war’ on poverty, America remains at around the same percentage of people still living in poverty as it did back then. In 1964, the poverty rate was approximately 19 percent. Today, it’s around 15 percent,” said Project 21 spokesman Derryck Green. “Statistics such as these demonstrate the War on Poverty was a continually-mismanaged disaster. That isn’t to say there haven’t been people helped by it. All things considered, however, it’s been a tragedy.”

Green added: “The disastrous effects of the government’s management of anti-poverty initiatives are recognizable across racial lines, but the destruction is particularly evident in the black community. It effectively subsidized the dissolution of the black family by rendering the black man’s role as a husband and a father irrelevant, invisible and — more specifically — disposable. The result has been several generations of blacks born into broken homes and broken communities experiencing social, moral and economic chaos. It fosters an inescapable dependency that primarily, and oftentimes solely, relies on government to sustain livelihoods.”

Federal programs directly resulting from the War on Poverty include Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, food stamps and enhanced Social Security benefits. At the time, President Johnson boasted, “[t]he richest nation on Earth can afford to win it.” In 1988, President Ronald Reagan noted in his 1988 State of the Union Address that “we waged a war on poverty, and poverty won.” President George H.W. Bush, in his own 1992 State of the Union Address, pointed out: “Welfare was never meant to be a lifestyle; it was never meant to be a habit; it was never supposed to be passed on from generation to generation like a legacy.” Bush’s comment echoed a statement by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who, long before the War on Poverty even began, warned government assistance could be like a “narcotic.”

lebon_smCommenting on the potential debilitating effects of public assistance, Project 21 Co-Chairman Cherylyn Harley LeBon said: “Although they were conceived with good intentions, the programs of the War on Poverty have ultimately had a negative impact on the lives of black Americans. Even Franklin Roosevelt warned that the welfare state ‘must not become a narcotic and a subtle destroyer of the spirit.'”

LeBon continued: “While some good things did come out of the 1960s, many of these programs — including Head Start — have become ineffective and, some argue, damaging over time. In fact, some of the major disasters plaguing minority communities — including drugs, higher incarceration rates and a rise in unwed mothers — couldn’t have just coincidentally began escalating at the same time. At this point, when we can reflect upon what has happened and what is needed, we should now support and expand policies encouraging small business expansion, improving educational opportunities, and strengthening faith and families.”

hudson_smProject 21’s Jerome Hudson said: “Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty produced a reality that is horrifyingly different than the one he probably hoped for. Instead of providing a mere safety net for families in need, it effectively replaced the virtues of work and self-reliance with an avalanche of welfare programs nuturing the poor. These welfare programs foster defeatism, disincentivize two-parent homes and set ablaze an American underclass now seemingly trapped in a never-ending cycle of poverty.”

cooper_sm“Fifty years ago, America began the War on Poverty,” said Project 21 Co-Chairman Horace Cooper. “Having spent trillions with little to show for it, it’s clearly time to declare a cease fire. After destroying generations of blacks and all but destroying the black family in total, it is time to try empowerment and personal responsibility.”

arps_sm“The War on Poverty has arguably destroyed the black nuclear family,” said Project 21’s Christopher Arps. “Roughly 75 percent of black children were born to a married two-parent family when the ‘war’ began in 1964. By 2008, the percentage of black babies born out of wedlock numbered over 72 percent. Today, the rate of unwed motherhood in the black community is more than twice as high as among whites — and almost three times higher than before big government’s grand intervention. And all this comes at a steep financial cost. The federal government has spent an estimated $15 trillion dollars to end poverty. Government reportedly spent $20,610 on every poor individual and $61,830 per poor family in 2012.”

As the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty is observed, it appears the Obama Administration is effectively doubling down on some of the very concepts of which Project 21 members are critical, including raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits and food stamp enrollment as well as fostering class warfare by focusing on alleged income inequality.

butler_sm“President Johnson’s War on Poverty, which was being formulated during the Kennedy Administration, is perhaps the only government institution that destroyed and devastated the black American upward mobility and family structure. As an assistant secretary of labor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned that the premise and concept of the War on Poverty would be detrimental to black America,” said Project 21’s Charles Butler. “The infamous split between the races that Moynihan predicted has created a deficit between white and black in key areas such as education, income and net worth. Yet we keep doing the same thing repeatedly hoping for a different result.”

Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for over two decades, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research (


The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.