By Tim Redmond

The federal War on Poverty is 50 years old, and a lot of the news media reports are calling it a failure: The poverty rate today is not much lower than it was when Lyndon Johnston started his famous social programs in 1964. But that’s something of a misleading statistic, suggesting that there’s nothing the federal government can do about poverty.

Look at the data in the chart here. The poverty rate in the US dropped pretty dramatically after 1964, from close to 20 percent to as low as my 11 percent in the mid-1970s. There were 35 million people living in poverty in the early 1960s; a decade later, after huge spending by the feds on housing, welfare, and urban development, that number was below 25 million.

In other words, the War on Poverty was working. Until the Age of Reagan.

After the Republicans cut taxes on the rich and decimated Great Society programs, both the poverty rate and the numbers of people in poverty started to rise again. Now, with the marginal tax rate less than half of what it was in 1970, and the federal budget for social programs that fight poverty reduced to a tiny fraction of what we spend on, say, wars, it’s no surprise that the gains this country made between 1964 and 1979 have vanished.

What failed wasn’t the War on Poverty; it was ending the War on Poverty.

At the same time, what hasn’t ended – and if anything, is increasing – is the War on Poor People in San Francisco. (more after the break)