This April, Christopher Jencks reviews Sheldon Danziger’s Legacies of the War on Poverty (Russell Sage, 2013) in a two-part series for The New York Review of Books. Jencks says Legacies’ chapters are “packed with evidence, make judicious judgments, and suggest a higher ratio of success to failure [of the War on Poverty] than opinion polls do.”
In part one, “The War on Poverty: Was it Lost?” Jencks describes why Danziger and co-editor Martha Bailey object to the standard practice of measuring the success or failure of the War on Poverty by using the official poverty rate. Jencks details the official poverty rate’s shortcomings, including its failure to adequately account for cohabiting couples, noncash benefits, refundable tax credits, and price changes. In part two, “Did We Lose the War on Poverty?,” Jencks describes “the successes and failures of specific anti-poverty programs” including Head Start, Title I, Pell Grants, Social Security, and food stamps.
Ultimately, Jencks seems to concur with Legacies that the poverty rate has fallen since the launch of the War on Poverty. Jencks praises Danziger’s Legacies, saying “we can be grateful that a small group [of scholars] has helped us reach a more balanced judgment about a noble experiment. We did not lose the War on Poverty. We gained some ground. Quite a lot of ground.”
Sheldon Danziger is president of the Russell Sage Foundation, the premier foundation devoted exclusively to social science research, and an emeritus professor of the Ford School.