Fifty years have passed Lyndon Johnson first waged the War on Poverty, but the very people who were supposed to be helped from major government spending on social programs turned out to be the greatest victims, according to Cherylyn Harley LeBon, co-chairman of Project 21, a leadership network of black conservatives.
Official accounts suggest the poverty rate in January 1964 was 19 percent. While the number has fluctuated over the past half-century, currently 15 percent of the U.S. lives under the poverty line, and total number living in poverty is at or very near an all-time high. Supporters of Johnson's programs say countless millions of adults and children have benefited and even survived thanks to these federal programs, but not everyone sees it that way.
"If you think about all these public assistance programs and how much they cost, and all we've seen in 50 years is a four percent decrease? Not even knowing the metrics, that's not something that impresses me," said Lebon, who told WND the far more damaging evidence can be seen in poor, and especially, black neighborhoods.
"I find it a very curious coincidence that the issues that started to plague the black community: the higher incarceration rate, the drug use, the explosive rise in single, unwed mothers all started to plague the black community in the 1960s, which coincided with the development of these social programs. These very same problems still plague the black community as these public assistance programs get larger and larger," she said.
LeBon believes leftists had good intentions in trying to provide assistance for poor and fatherless homes, but their efforts only made the problem worse.
"A good number of these public assistance programs are a massive disincentive to having a cohesive family because you're penalized if you have a man in the home," LeBon said. "They are contributing to the breakdown of the black family."
While Johnson launched the War on Poverty, LeBon said the seeds for his thinking could be found in Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs during the Great Depression. But even as he implemented major government assistance programs, Roosevelt also warned against dependence upon the programs which he feared long-term dependence on the government would be "a subtle destroyer of the spirit."
LeBon said that's exactly what's happened.
"In some communities, public assistance programs have become a subtle destroyer of the spirit because when you're looking at multi-generations of families who have been on public assistance, where is the incentive for individuals to want to start businesses and become entrepreneurs? It's just not there," LeBon explained.
Earlier this week, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., offered new approaches to battling poverty, including shifting the burden from the federal government to the states to work on different solutions. He also argued that having married parents was the greatest asset children have in escaping or staying out of poverty. Rubio was roundly mocked by the left for that belief, and LeBon believes she knows why.
"Part of the narrative from the left, perhaps well-intentioned, is this patriarchal sort of notion and the belief that we need to take care of everyone. We really don't want the government taking care of families. We want those families taking care of their own families," said Lebon, who argues that approach leads to better morale and initiative in the home and a greater sense of self worth for all when they are not dependent upon government for so many things.
So what would be a better approach? LeBon said local governments need to do everything possible to attract businesses to set up shop in a community rather than having to walk through a maze of bureaucracy just to get started. In addition to the creation of new jobs, she said new businesses revitalize an entire neighborhood by attracting other businesses and encouraging current residents to fix up their homes and businesses and raise property values while putting their money back into the local community.
"That has an enormous ripple effect, and that's not from Congress," she said. "That is on local leadership and local government officials to put those policies in place, improve those communities and improve the lives in those communities."