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Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  273 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
This classic book serves as a starting point for any serious discussion of welfare reform. Losing Ground argues that the ambitious social programs of the1960s and 1970s actually made matters worse for its supposed beneficiaries, the poor and minorities. Charles Murray startled readers by recommending that we abolish welfare reform, but his position launched a debate culmin ...more
Paperback, 10th Anniversary Edition, 346 pages
Published December 7th 1994 by Basic Books (first published November 30th 1983)
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Russell Hayes
Nov 25, 2012 Russell Hayes rated it really liked it
The thesis of this book is that welfare increases poverty. It cannot reduce poverty.

Prior to the 1960s, the prevailing view of the past 300 years or so was that welfare should be aid in the form of things like housing (think Dickens's Bleak House), not a direct dole out of money to the poor. Welfare was thought to encourage sloth and laziness: by increasing the value of being unemployed vis a vis being employed, the classic market response is to increase supply of the unemployed. It also increa
Feb 13, 2009 Jim rated it really liked it
An excellent data-based analysis of the massive social programs introduced starting in the mid-sixties, and their effects. Murray convincingly argues that after billions and billions spent on welfare programs, including AFDC, food stamps, unemployment insurance, job training programs, and others, the effect on the target population has been mostly negative. He effectively shows that these programs actually caused harm. This is a harsh reality that people instinctively know but everyone is afraid ...more
Nov 27, 2014 Michael rated it it was amazing
I am a retired 30 year veteran police officer and started my police career at about the time "Losing Ground" was published. Through my police career I watched the deterioration of the poor, particularly Blacks. I always suspected that the government programs of the Lyndon Johnson administration had something to do with it but never had a way to confirm it until I found a copy of "Losing Ground." It is not a political book although politicians should be ashamed of themselves for what they did and ...more
John Harder
Apr 24, 2014 John Harder rated it it was amazing
Charles Murray, through detailed statistical analysis exposes the horrible failure of the war on poverty. Poverty was on a steady decline until the mid sixties, when President Johnson declared a war on poverty. As soon as the war was declared poverty stopped declining and has remained roughly at the same level ever since. Why?

The rules for remaining out of poverty are simple. Work hard at whatever job is available that meets your abilities, and don’t have children out of wedlock. However, when a
Jonathan Lukens
Feb 16, 2010 Jonathan Lukens rated it liked it
An interesting data based counter argument to the standard rhetoric in my department where everyone shares the belief that all great things come from government intervention. I think Murray make a few causal claims that may be merely correlations. However, i like people who buck conventional wisdom, especially in the academy where there is a tendency toward group think. Data is old--would be interesting to see an update that includes post TANF data.
Dec 13, 2014 Ryan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: policy, culture
Another clear, concise, data-driven book by Charles Murray. The general theme of the book is that social policy targeting poverty since the 1960's has only increased poverty, and will continue to do so unless policy is changed.

If you can read between the lines throughout the book, he is ruthless with the "White intellectuals and elite." The condescension shown toward the poor (especially Black poor) population has only gotten worse since the 60's, yet it is this condescension that is the foundat
Mark Geise
Jan 15, 2016 Mark Geise rated it it was amazing
“Losing Ground” was a fantastic read. Charles Murray’s thesis is that expansive, centralized social welfare programs are a net negative and disproportionately hurt the responsible poor. In the United States, as social welfare programs have expanded, the most vulnerable groups among us have seen their lot in life get progressively worse. Though social welfare programs may sound good superficially, the data do not support that expansive social welfare programs are a net positive.

Murray first lays
Abby Jean
Mar 11, 2013 Abby Jean rated it did not like it
Shelves: phd-yr-1, 2013
check a citation - any citation - and it certainly won't support murray's argument or say what he says it does. specious arguments to support bigoted AEI values/ideals. useful only for throwing.
Michael Connolly
Apr 14, 2012 Michael Connolly rated it really liked it
Sociologist Charles Murray claims that Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty did more harm than good. The poverty rate in the United States had been gradually declining for decades before LBJ's programs were started. In fact, the poverty rate continued to decline for the first few years of these poverty programs, during the late 1960s, when their funding was at a low level. But when the amount of money being spent on the War on Poverty increased dramatically during the 1970s, the poverty rate started ...more
Sean Rosenthal
Dec 07, 2013 Sean Rosenthal rated it really liked it
Interesting Quote:

"If an impartial observer from another country were shown data on the black lower class from 1950 to 1980 but given no information about contemporaneous changes in society or public policy, that observer would infer that racial discrimination against the black poor increased drastically during the late 1960s and 1970s. No explanation except a surge in outright, virulent discrimination would as easily explain to a 'blind' observer why things went so wrong.

"Such an explanation i
Dec 13, 2015 Adam rated it it was amazing
Very well written, data-driven case study of why the Great Society was not only unproductive, but rather counterproductive. I loved the detailed, step-by-step explanations of how the social programs of the 1960s created perverse incentives and motivated short-term gains at the expense of long-term success.

Must-read for those who care about reducing poverty, also for libertarians.
Nov 20, 2013 Ben rated it did not like it
When this inveterate racist asks why Black people are out of work, the answer may surprise you! (spoiler alert: the answer will not surprise you). He uses lots of graphs to hide the fact that he obscures the situation by confusing correlation with causation - i.e. - as government means tested welfare programs have expanded the plight of the black male youth has gotten worse therefore the plight of the black male youth is the fault of expanded program. Nothing int he book (written 1984) would sur ...more
Bud Hewlett
Feb 15, 2009 Bud Hewlett rated it it was amazing
My friend Gene Anderson lent me this book and said I would like it. I thought "What could be more boring than a book on social policy"? I picked it up one night waiting for my old dot matrix printer to print out a letter and ended up reading till two in the morning. I couldn't put it down. It's the kind of book that you can open up to any page and immediately become engrossed. Charles Murray became one of my favorite authors and this book, though dated, is still in my top five.
Apr 08, 2013 Ray rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book doesn't lend itself to the audio book format, which was how I tried to "read" it. It's more of a text book than a good read, and you really need to focus on the information to absorb it, and unfortunately, my mind continued to drift while listening.

Cortney R
Feb 03, 2008 Cortney R rated it it was amazing
Here, Charles Murray explains the conundrum that is the failure of the welfare state to solve the problems it was meant to solve. He provides access to statistics, charts and empirical evidence of his argument. It's a nice read with an important message.
Jeff Rottman
Oct 07, 2009 Jeff Rottman rated it liked it
While not the most riveting book, it clearly presents the failure of the federal social programs. I disagree with his some of his conclusions that call for increased government intervention but the facts presented are useful in debate.
Beth Haynes
Nov 24, 2015 Beth Haynes rated it really liked it
Even though it is old it's worth reading in order to understand poverty in America.
If we don't understand the history of how we got to today, we can not implement effective policies to move in the right direction.
Mar 12, 2013 Josie rated it did not like it
I don't think Goodreads will let me paste a five-page long "journal" for class in my review. Suffice to say that the margins in my copy are annotated quite angrily.
Sherry da Silva
Nov 29, 2012 Sherry da Silva marked it as did-not-finish-but-want-to
Was trying to listen to this as an audio book but couldn't concentrate. Probably would be better reading an ebook or dead tree version.
Nedland P.
Dec 11, 2010 Nedland P. rated it it was amazing
Murray was the first to describe how our attempts to rectify poverty were having the exact opposite effect.
Sep 06, 2010 Jim rated it liked it
A textbook. Must have been useful because I have 50 "dog ears". :)
Sep 02, 2007 Greta added it
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