(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Paul Ryan has a right to be wrong. He can believe that anti-poverty programs don’t work.
But he does not have a right to foster the fantasy that his opinion is grounded in reality.
Unfortunately, media reports on the Republican vice presidential candidate’s “big” speech on how to address poverty, focused on Ryan’s glib one-liners rather than the fact that his basic premises are false.
Ryan says that: “In this war on poverty, poverty is winning.”
That’s a nice play on words. But there’s a problem. Ryan wants us to believe that the “war on poverty” is what’s causing poverty.
The Republican candidate says:
With a few exceptions, government’s approach has been to spend lots of money on centralized, bureaucratic, top-down anti-poverty programs.
The mindset behind this approach is that a nation should measure compassion by the size of the federal government and how much it spends.
The problem is, starting in the 1960s, this top-down approach created and perpetuated a debilitating culture of dependency, wrecking families and communities.
So, in Ryan’s opinion, the “war on poverty” that President Lyndon Johnson declared in 1964 as part of a broader Great Society initiative made matters worse.
But that’s just wrong.
How do we know? Census data.
In 1959, 22.1 percent of Americans lived below the poverty line.
In 1969, 13.7 percent of Americans lived below the poverty line.
The poverty level has varied since 1969. It has gone as high as 15 percent. But it has never again gotten anywhere near where it was in 1959.