David Barton Wildly Distorts Key Poverty Statistic

How do lower- and working-class Americans get duped into supporting right-wing public policies that do them economic harm? They listen to phony “experts” like David Barton — a former Texas Republican Party vice chairman and the head of the religious-right organization WallBuilders.

Barton pretends to be a respected scholar of American history, but his grasp of facts is about as pitifully weak as his fealty to telling the truth. Consider, for example, Barton’s speech at a Texas Eagle Forum event during the Texas Republican Party convention in Fort Worth last month. Texas Eagle Forum’s July newsletter includes excerpts from that speech, including Barton’s suggestion that poor Americans really aren’t poor:

“Those deemed below the poverty level in the U.S. have a telephone, TV, car, eat more red meat and live in more square footage than the middle class of Europe. The poverty level for the U.S. is $40,000 annually, while in the rest of the world, it is below $456. That is why people want to come to America and live in poverty!”

Of course, people don’t come to America to live in poverty. Barton’s claim is a dog whistle for those on the right who argue that immigrants come to the United States to get access to welfare programs. But immigrants come to the United States seeking what other immigrants have sought throughout our history: liberty and the chance to find work that makes their lives better.

Even more outrageous, though, is Barton’s wild distortion of the statistics comparing poverty levels.

His claim regarding the international poverty level — $456 — appears to be based on a World Bank estimate of $1.25 per day — for one person. But Barton’s claim that the poverty rate in the United States is $40,000 is not true for one person — that annual income level (actually, it’s $40,090) is for a family/household of eight people. The poverty rate for one person in the United States is much lower — $11,670.

The American poverty level is much higher than the international poverty rate, of course. But it’s important to note that poverty levels are relative to a particular country’s standard of living. And yes, many (but certainly not all; consider the colonias in South Texas) poor Americans do have access to products that poor people elsewhere do not. But one big reason for that is government aid — aid that Barton and his fellow Republicans generally oppose.

Finally, Barton also distorts the comparison between poor Americans and middle-class Europeans. In fact, a study this spring showing that the American middle class is no longer the richest in the world also explains that the poor in much of Europe earn more than the poor in the United States.

In short, Barton appears to be either a terrible researcher or a liar. But we knew that.

So it really doesn’t surprise us anymore when Barton baldly distorts the truth. It does astonish us that his conservative audiences don’t appear to object to being treated like gullible fools.

6 thoughts on “David Barton Wildly Distorts Key Poverty Statistic

  1. Barton is very careful to preach only to the choir. Most of his choir in that Eagle Forum setting, I’m guessing, are less educated about what the rest of the world is like than a class of 5th graders.

    The one time Barton slipped his own leash was publishing his book on Jefferson that was so fraught with misinformation and systematic failures in scholarship that his own publisher pulled it from the shelves.

  2. Dan. Some of the suspicious numbers put forward by Barton sound an awful lot like they came from a Heritage Foundation propaganda document that was sent around to American churches a number of years ago. I found a copy of it in the library at my church. It is a complete training course designed to teach church members that there is no such thing as poverty in the United States.

    Back around 1917, you will recall the famous millionaire brothers who printed and paid for shipping a free copy of the multi-volume religious work entitled “The Fundamentals” to every church in the United States. I bet this Heritage Foundation training course was distributed according to the same model–or thereabouts.

    It is not enough that the Religious Right decided to rewrite the Bible to suit its own tastes. They are now attempting to prove that the “least of these” that Jesus cares so much about do not exist in the United States, which is a real convenient course of action when the only God you really know is named “MONEY.”

      1. Thanks Dan. This is it. This Heritage Foundation report was converted into a training package to educate church members about how no poverty exits in the United States. They should have visited my urban house in the late 1950s and 1960s. No hot running water, no indoor toilet, no telephone, no car, no air-conditioning, no Christmas gifts from parents after 5 years old. Mantra—do without.

        Kiss my rear end Barton.

  3. Actually, in Texas its not so much the working or blue collar whites that support the republicans but the well to do and upper middle class. Texas has some wealthy counties over 80,000 a year and usually Republicans do very high in them. Its similar to Southern California where the biggest support in places like Orange County is Yorba Linda and Newport Beach places that have millionaires, same goes for San Diego Rancho Santa Fe usually goes high for the Republicans. In other parts of the US the rich are spilit or go for Democrats.

  4. They probably come from upper middle class families, Eagle Forum is heavily in Collins County in Texas not a poor county and their parents probably have some college. In fact whites that are high school drop outs in Texas tend to vote Democrat. Paul Krugman did a study on this.