Bice: U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson blames LBJ and Great Society for high percentage of out-of-wedlock births

It didn't take Ron Johnson long to break his New Year's resolution to take a more measured approach to public policy.

The state's most controversial politician is already back to offering his often controversial take on things in 2022.

Last year Johnson advised using mouthwash to combat COVID-19 and labeled Social Security a Ponzi scheme, and now he has added God to his bizarre take on vaccines.

He's taking on the topic of out-of-wedlock births.

Who is to blame for the high rate of unmarried childbearing in the U.S.? Lyndon Baines Johnson was the architect of the Great Society.

Lyndon Baines Johnson died nearly 50 years ago.

For the week's political news explained, subscribe to our On Wisconsin Politics newsletter.

In the 1960s, we had a booming economy and people were lifting themselves out of poverty. The second-term Wisconsin Republican said on the "The Great America Show" that the Great Society programs were instituted.

The Great Society was a soup of social and antipoverty programs pushed through Congress by Johnson. They included food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, federal educational funding, housing assistance and increased welfare spending.

The programs did not eliminate poverty according to Johnson.

"But you know what went up?" "Birth rates are out-of-wedlock," Johnson said. Between 5% and 10% of births were out of wedlock in the 1960's. We're over 40% nationally.

Johnson, who is a fan of libertarian writer Ayn Rand, was not done giving his take on the Great Society.

"Why aren't we looking at that?" he asked. Is it possible that the Great Society programs made it possible for single mothers? You won't get the benefits until after the fathers are present in the home.

"You have to look at the cause and effect of these things, as opposed to just the intentions," he said.

Causality does not mean correlation.

If it were simple.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40% of all births were to unwed mothers in 2019. The percentage has been largely unchanged for a decade, despite being down slightly from its high in 2009.

The percentage of children born out of wedlock is way up from 1960, shortly before the Great Society proposals were enacted. Back then, the figure was 5%.

Since the launch of the "war on poverty", there has been a rapid increase in unmarried births.

"Correlation doesn't mean causality," said Timothy Smeeding, professor of economics and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It doesn't mean that one of the variables is causing the other.

There are a number of reasons for the rise in out-of-wedlock births.

There has been a decline in shotgun weddings, a rise in cohabitation, more permissive sexual mores, a drop in manufacturing jobs for males without college degrees, and greater financial independence for women.

It's just for the beginning.

He said that the decline in teenage pregnancies is a good thing. He said that more and more parents are making better choices.

Can you just attribute it to the Great Society programs? "What do you think?" Smeeding asked. "No."

Johnson is making a mistake by conflating welfare with Johnson's Great Society. Aid to Families with Dependent Children was one of the largest welfare programs created in the 1930s.

Black families were not allowed on most federal welfare programs before the 1950s and 1960s, according to Douglas J. Besharov, a public policy professor at the University of Maryland.

Blacks were kicked off the welfare rolls in some southern states because they didn't allow families to receive benefits during picking season.

The "man-in-the-house" rules were enacted by a number of states and disqualified families from receiving welfare benefits if there was an adult male in the household. He said that this discouraged female welfare recipients from getting married.

There may be some basis for what Johnson is saying.

Changing attitudes about marriage and sex, as well as the misuse of contraceptives, have led to an increase in out-of-wedlock births over the last 60 years.

"I'm really trying to tell you that there are lots of reasons," he said.

This isn't a new issue for Johnson.

According to a 2016 story on, Johnson set up a trust for his children in 1997 and has assets worth between $16.5 million and $78.1 million. The document is not very complex.

Johnson and his wife said their children could be cut off from receiving their share of the trust if they engaged in criminal behavior, such as two unrelated felonies, or had more than one child without being married.

According to the Salon story, his kids are allowed one felony or one child out of wedlock, and after that, they're cut off. It's not possible to know how big Johnson's trust is, but he is a very wealthy man.

Daniel Bice can be reached at He can be followed on social media by following him on Facebook at

Our subscribers make this possible. If you would like to support local journalism, please subscribe to the Journal Sentinel.

The app gives you the latest news, sports and more.

The article was originally published on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.