Evaluating the Success of President Johnson's War on Poverty: Revisiting the Historical Record Using a Full-Income Poverty Measure

47 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2019

See all articles by Richard V. Burkhauser

Richard V. Burkhauser

Cornell University - Department of Policy Analysis & Management (PAM); University of Melbourne, Melbourne Institute

Kevin Corinth

Council of Economic Advisers

James Elwell

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Jeff Larrimore

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

Date Written: March 17, 2019

Abstract

To evaluate success in President Johnson’s War on Poverty it is necessary to evaluate that success based on his scientifically arbitrary but policy relevant terms of engagement. No existing poverty measure is capable of measuring its success. We do so here by developing a Full-Income Poverty Measure (FPM) anchored to the Official Poverty Measure in 1963 (approximately equal to the one-fifth of Americans President Johnson declared to be in poverty at that time). We update nominal FPM thresholds for inflation each year and include as resources all sources of income (incorporating taxes as well as cash and in-kind transfers, including the market value of employer and government provided health insurance). Using Current Population Survey data, we show that our FPM-based poverty rate fell from 19.5 percent in 1963 to 2.3 percent in 2017. This compares to a reduction from 19.5 to 12.3 percent over the same period based on the Official Poverty Measure. Our wider income definition, the use of a more accurate inflation measure, and the use of a household rather than a family sharing unit are important drivers of this difference in poverty trends.

Keywords: Poverty, Full income, Lyndon Johnson

JEL Classification: I32

Suggested Citation

Burkhauser, Richard V. and Corinth, Kevin and Elwell, James and Larrimore, Jeff, Evaluating the Success of President Johnson's War on Poverty: Revisiting the Historical Record Using a Full-Income Poverty Measure (March 17, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3353906 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3353906

Richard V. Burkhauser

Cornell University - Department of Policy Analysis & Management (PAM) ( email )

120 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

University of Melbourne, Melbourne Institute ( email )

Level 5, FBE Building, 111 Barry Street
161 Barry Street
Carlton, VIC 3053
Australia

Kevin Corinth (Contact Author)

Council of Economic Advisers ( email )

James Elwell

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Jeff Larrimore

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System ( email )

20th Street and Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20551
United States

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