Rep. Darrell Issa Calls American Poor 'Envy Of The World,' Somewhat

Justin Streight

Californian Representative Darrell Issa told CNN that America's poor are "somewhat the envy of the world" in a comment that's already being panned as insensitive from Congress' richest man. Issa went on to explain that if you compare the plight of America's poor to that of India or other developing countries, things seem much worse.

CNN Money asked Republican Darrell Issa if he feels personally responsible for addressing America's growing income inequality. The Representative answered "absolutely" but still implied that people in poverty in America have it much better than the poor in other countries.

"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."

The comments came off as tone-deaf to liberal critics, especially considering Darrell Issa's personal fortune.

The Representative became a member of the wealthy class from his job as CEO of car security giant Directed Electronics. According to MSN News, Issa's current net worth is around $450 million, far more than any other member of Congress.

Still, is there any validity to Darrell Issa's claim? Is America a relatively great place to be poor?

It would likely be an easy contest if you compare America to India or other developing nations. But as MSN pointed out, India is rarely put in the same economic league as the United States. The more common assertion is that America's poor are in a worse position than people in poverty in other developed countries, like in Europe.

It turns out the data is mixed.

According to OECD's Better Life Index -- a measure that includes a combination of hard economic figures with items like community and civic engagement -- the U.S. is not so bad. Some number crunching at the Economist showed that the rich in the U.S. are the real envy of the world, but the American poor life beats out countries like France and Germany, supporting Darrel Issa's claims. Still, Canadian and Swedish people in poverty apparently have it better.

As for upward mobility, another part of Issa's brief comments, some academics say it has disintegrated in the U.S., leaving the lowest 10 percent in an endless cycle of poverty.

University of Ottawa economist Miles Corak claimed that out of all developed countries, only Britain and Italy had worse upward mobility using measures of "intergenerational earnings elasticity." According to the professor's research, if you're born into the American bottom 10 percent, you'll likely stay there.

Nevertheless, Darrell Issa said "the envy of the world" and today the world's population lives mostly in developing countries. Leaving Issa's comment difficult to argue with, even if it did seem tone-deaf to many.

[Image Credit: Getty Images]