The poverty level has varied since 1969. It has gone as high as 15 percent. But it has never again gotten anywhere near where it was in 1959.
What changed during the 1960s to dramatically decrease poverty?
"Centralized, bureaucratic, top-down anti-poverty programs" like Medicare (1965), Medicaid (1965), the initiatives launched with the Food Stamp Act of 1964 and Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 programs such as the Jobs Corps (1964) and Head Start (1965).
Those programs worked.
They're still working.
An honest political leader who really wanted to do something to finish the "war on poverty" would propose to expand them, with, for instance, an expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans, and a real Jobs Corps that would put Americans to work rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure of America.
But Paul Ryan does not believe that.
He says "the problem" started in the 1960s.
Indeed, if Ryan is known for anything it is for his determination to downsize, voucherize and privatize the programs that have worked, that are working, to fight poverty.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's budget plan would get at least 62 percent of its $5.3 trillion in non-defense budget cuts over 10 years (relative to a continuation of current policies) from programs that serve people of limited means."
Paul Ryan's challenger is his other 2012 race -- a bet-hedging run for an eighth term in the US House -- is calling this one right:
"If poverty's winning the war, it's because of policies Paul Ryan supports," says Wisconsin Democrat Rob Zerban. "By doubling down on his radical plot to gut Medicaid, privatize Social Security, and decimate food assistance programs, Paul Ryan is betting against working families -- all to hand out new tax breaks for millionaires and Big Oil."
Paul Ryan has taken a side in the war on poverty. He's against what works.
Ryan has a right to take the positions that he does.
But no one should confuse those positions with a sincere commitment to fighting, let alone ending, poverty.