The Great Society Has Been A Great Success
In July 2013, roughly 8.9 million disabled workers received an average of $1,130 each month from the Social Security Trust Fund. That is up from roughly 455,000 in 1960 and 4.4 million in 1996. As Joe Califano points out, yet another long lasting benefit Great Society programs.
The Great Society
From 1963 to 1970, the portion of Americans living below the poverty line dropped from 22.2 percent to 12.6 percent, the most dramatic decline over such a brief period in the 20th century. Since then, the poverty rate has remained around 13% which is disgraceful in the context of the greatest economic boom in our history. Nonetheless, approximately 24 million more Americans would be living below the poverty level without the Great Society.
In those years (and unlike contemporary times), the President submitted, and Congress enacted, more than 100 major proposals in each of the 89th and 90th Congresses. Legislation such as increasing the minimum benefits of social security that lifted some two million Americans 65 and older above the poverty line. In 1996, thanks to those increased minimum benefits, Social Security lifted 12 million senior citizens above the poverty line. To gain greater understanding, what does the Great Society look like today?
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is designed to help needy families achieve self-sufficiency. States receive block grants to design and operate programs that accomplish one of the purposes of the TANF program. The four purposes of the TANF program are to: provide assistance to needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes; reduce the dependency of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work and marriage; prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.
SNAP (Food Stamps)
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) programs offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities. SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net. The Food and Nutrition Service works with State agencies, nutrition educators, and neighborhood and faith-based organizations to ensure that those eligible for nutrition assistance can make informed decisions about applying for the program and can access benefits. FNS also works with State partners and the retail community to improve program administration and ensure program integrity.
Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides Federal grants to States for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.
Medicaid provides health coverage to millions of Americans, including eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and people with disabilities. Medicaid is administered by states, according to federal requirements. The program is funded jointly by states and the federal government.
Requirements for Public Assistance
Most public assistance programs are aimed at poor people and limit participants’ incomes to a maximum somewhere around the poverty line (about $20,000 a year for a family of three). As a low-paid worker moves up the income scale, benefits are gradually withdrawn. When income exceeds $4,900, workers lose TANF, a program designed to help needy families achieve self-sufficiency where states receive block grants to design and operate programs that accomplish one of the purposes of the TANF program.. At around $23,000, workers lose food stamps and federal housing assistance. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) calculates that the effective marginal tax rate would range from a modest 17% to a jaw-dropping 95%. At 20% America still has one of the lowest overall levels of welfare spending among developed nations.
Arizona passed a drug-testing requirement in 2009. Nine more states, including Florida, have passed similar laws since 2011. At least 29 states debated such measures in 2013, but only two of the bills passed. State data in Florida found only 108 out of 4,086 people, 2.6%, were found to have been using narcotics. State records also indicated that the drug testing requirement cost more money to carry out than it saved.
Benefits Beyond The Impoverished
The poverty rate doesn’t factor Great Society initiatives keeping more people out of poverty like EITC, a negative income tax that tops the earnings of low-paid workers. With the EITC, hypothetically, a single mother with one child will receive a credit that rises to $3,250 a year as she approaches $9,600 in earnings. This will remain steady until she makes $17,500, at which point it starts to be phased out.
The number of people receiving cash benefits under TANF fell from 12.3 million people a month in 1996 to 4.1 million in 2012, meanwhile employment amongst single mothers rose sharply. The proportion of TANF claimants engaged in “work activities” ranges from 17% in Missouri to 88% in Idaho. Only 15% of those receiving TANF benefits also received housing benefits. In 2011 roughly 86% of children receiving Medicaid came from working families, according to the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
Welfare-like programs such as Medicaid spend $228 billion on the non-elderly population, and Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) take up another $13.5 billion. Title 1 grants ($14 billion) and Head Start ($7.1 billion) programs which are similar in nature also don’t entirely go to poor people. Since 1965, 79 million Americans have signed up for Medicare. In 1966, 19 million were enrolled; in 1998, 39 million; Since 1966, Medicaid has served more than 200 million needy Americans. In 1967, it served 10 million poor citizens; in 1997, 39 million; in 2014, 65 million.
In a study conducted by the Cato Institute, a jobless single mother with two children might receive a whopping $49,175 worth of benefits in Hawaii, the most generous state, but only $16,984 in Mississippi, the lowest. These benefits include TANF, SNAP, Medicaid, housing assistance, utilities assistance, emergency food aid, and the program for Women Infants and Children (WIC). In 39 states, this hypothetical single mother would make more from benefits than a secretary working full time. In 11 states, she would make more than a first-year teacher.
Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO)
Eleven of the 12 programs that OEO launched in the mid-’60s are alive, well and funded at an annual rate demonstrating that both legislators and the people believe they’re still working. The OEO was the agency responsible for administering most of the War on Poverty programs created as part of the Great Society.
Head Start, Job Corps, Community Health Centers, Foster Grandparents, Upward Bound (now part of the Trio Program in the Department of Education), Green Thumb (now Senior Community Service Employment), Indian Opportunities (now in the Labor Department) and Migrant Opportunities (now Seasonal Worker Training and Migrant Education) were all designed to empower individuals towards economic independence.
The Arts and Media
The National Endowment for the Arts has spawned art councils in all 50 states and more than 420 playhouses, 120 opera companies, 400 dance companies and 230 professional orchestras. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts programs entertain three million people each year and are televised to millions more. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, which attracts more than 700,000 visitors annually. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting today supports 350 public television and 699 public radio stations.
Parks and Nature Preservation
Of the 35 national parks established during the Great Society years, 32 are within easy driving distance of large cities. The http://www.rivers.gov/wsr-act.php today protects 155 river segments in 37 states. The 1968 National Trail System Act has established more than 800 recreational, scenic, and historic trails covering 40,000 miles.
From 1965 to 1999, the federal government has provided more than a quarter of a trillion dollars in 86 million college loans to 29 million students, and more than $14 billion in work-study awards to 6 million students. Nearly 60 percent of full-time undergraduate students received federal financial aid under Great Society programs and their progeny.
When these programs were enacted, only 41 percent of Americans had completed high school; only 8 percent held college degrees. Today, more than 86 percent had finished high school and 40 percent had completed college. Head Start, which has served more than 16 million preschoolers in just about every city and county in the nation, serves 900,000 children a year.
In 1960, only 20 percent of blacks completed high school and only 3 percent finished college; now, 69 percent completed high school and more than 42 percent earned college degrees. In 1964 there were 79 black elected officials in the South and 300 in the entire nation. Today, there are some 10,500 elected black officials across the nation, including at least 6,000 in the South. In 1965 there were five black members of the House; today there are 43. In 1960, black life expectancy was 63.6 years, not even long enough to benefit from the Social Security taxes that black citizens paid during their working lives. Today, black life expectancy is 75.5 years. In 1960, the infant mortality rate for blacks was 44.3 for each 1,000 live births; today, that rate has plummeted by two-thirds, to 11.46.
Life Expectancy and Infant Mortality
In 1964, life expectancy was 66.6 years for men and 73.1 years for women (69.7 years overall). In just two generations, life expectancy jumped 15 percent: for men, to 76.4 years; for women, to 81.2 years (78.8 years overall). The jump was highest among the less advantaged, suggesting that better nutrition and access to health care have played an even larger role than medical miracles. Infant mortality stood at 26 deaths for each 1,000 live births when LBJ took office; today it stands at only 6.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, a reduction of over 75 percent.
The Great Society has been an overwhelming success. Without programs such as Head Start, higher-education loans and scholarships, Medicare, Medicaid, clear air and water, and civil rights, life would be nastier, more brutish, and shorter for millions of Americans.