WEDNESDAY marked the 50th anniversary of President Johnson's declaration of war against poverty. The nation's poverty rate was 19 percent then, now, 15 percent.
Christopher Flavelle of Bloomberg News noted that America seemingly spends more but gets less from its anti-poverty programs.
"Britain, where government social spending per person was 4 percent lower than in the U.S., had a poverty rate of 10 percent. Canada, meanwhile, which spent 16 percent less on social programs, had a poverty rate about two-thirds the U.S. level," Flavelle wrote.
But the comparison is based solely on cash assistance. The U.S. doles out much of its help in non-cash programs such as Medicaid.
Over the years, the definition of poverty has changed. Consider central air conditioning. In 1964 only the rich had it. By 1970, 11 percent of all households had central air, says the Department of Energy.
By 2005, 59.3 percent of all households had central air, including 38 percent of people living in poverty and 78.3 percent of the poor had air conditioning of some sort.
In Johnson's day, malnutrition was the problem. Today, childhood obesity is.
America won the War on Poverty when it comes to material things, but when it comes to people, that's another matter.
While there will always be some people who need a safety net, the best assistance for most is a net that bounces them back into work force and out of poverty. After spending $20 trillion over 50 years to fight poverty, it's time to rethink policies that encourage long-term dependence.
It's time to re-work programs that punish people who take a job. It's time to establish better tax and economic policies that encourage employers to grow their U.S. work force and provide opportunities for pay advancement.
In West Virginia, the labor market needs more people with technical skills. Economist Anthony Carnevale estimated that the state will need another 20,000 people with post-secondary degrees within the next four years.
The state has several programs to provide individuals access to education as a way of building their work skills. Carnevale ranked the state fifth in affordability and access to community college.
But it is up to the individual to take the initiative.