Darrell Issa is wrong, India better on income inequality than the U.S.

According to one of the wealthiest members of the U.S. Congress, the American poor are “somewhat the envy of the world.” So said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., to CNN Money yesterday (video above). His remarks came in response to a question about income inequality in the United States and are catching media attention today. While there are problems with the headline grabbing phrase, it is his underlying assumptions that are plain wrong.

“If you go to India or you go to any number of other Third World countries, you have two problems: You have greater inequality of income and wealth. You also have less opportunity for people to rise from the have not to the have,” Issa said in the interview.

Problem is, India scores better in income inequality than the United States. Other more equal “third world countries” include Niger, Sri Lanka, Laos, Tanzania and Cambodia. The Gini coefficient for the United States is 41.1 percent, according to World Bank data. A 0 on the scale is considered a perfectly equal society. As a point of comparison, Sweden is the most equal country with a score of 25 percent.

A 2006 Gini index map that shows how the US stacks up against the rest of the world. (credit: wikimedia)

A 2006 Gini index map that shows how the US stacks up against the rest of the world. (credit: wikimedia)

Issa may be right that the quality of life for a poor American is better than a poor Indian, but poverty, no matter where in the world, is a terrible state of living. Part of the problem is people like Issa (reportedly worth more than $400 million) who believe income inequality is not a problem and economic mobility is easier in the United States than in developing countries. He is just plain wrong.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.