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

57 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 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

Government of the United States of America - Joint Committee on Taxation

Jeff Larrimore

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

Multiple version iconThere are 4 versions of this paper

Date Written: December 2019

Abstract

We evaluate progress in President's Johnson's War on Poverty. We do so relative to the scientifically arbitrary but policy relevant 20 percent baseline poverty rate he established for 1963. No existing poverty measure fully captures poverty reductions based on the standard that President Johnson set. To fill this gap, we develop a Full-income Poverty Measure with thresholds set to match the 1963 Official Poverty Rate. We include cash income, taxes, and major in-kind transfers and update poverty thresholds for inflation annually. While the Official Poverty Rate fell from 19.5 percent in 1963 to 12.3 percent in 2017, our Full-income Poverty Rate based on President Johnson’s standards fell from 19.5 percent to 2.3 percent over that period. Today, almost all Americans have income above the inflation-adjusted thresholds established in the 1960s. Although expectations for minimum living standards evolve, this suggests substantial progress combatting absolute poverty since the War on Poverty began.

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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 (December 2019). NBER Working Paper No. w26532, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3500650

Richard V. Burkhauser (Contact Author)

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

Council of Economic Advisers ( email )

James Elwell

Government of the United States of America - Joint Committee on Taxation ( email )

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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