Cato welfare dude Michael Tanner argues that “since Lyndon Johnson declared War on Poverty in 1964, the poverty rate is perilously close to where we began more than 40 years ago.” He notes that if “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. What does that say about our welfare policy?” But look at the historical tables in 1964, 19 percent of the population was poor. Today, that’s 12.6 percent. There are around 300 million people in America, so the 6.4 percentage point diminution in poverty is worth about 19.2 million non-impoverished people. By comparison, just 17.8 million people live in Florida.
Back to the table, though, and you’ll see that poverty actually fell quite rapidly from 19 percent in 1964 to 12.6 percent in 1970. Throughout the seventies, the average poverty rate was about 11.8 percent. At around the end of this period Ronald Reagan falsely claimed that the war on poverty had failed (as you can see, poverty rates fell dramatically) and curtailed anti-poverty programs. As a result, since then poverty rates have largely bounced up and down roughly in step with broad macroeconomic trends, but have never re-reached the seventies-vintage lows on a sustained basis.
So, yes, whether or not you favor spending money on giving stuff to poor people, it remains the case that — surprise! — poor people benefit from those services.