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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Another Rick Perry Whopper

Texas Gov. Rick Perry makes another wildly false claim in a new Web ad — saying that the U.S. poverty rate has hit an “all-time high.” In fact, the rate is the highest since 1993, but 7.3 percentage points lower than it was in 1959, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent annual tallies.

Perry’s false claim about the poverty rate follows his false claim during his second debate appearance, when he said Obama’s stimulus measure “created zero jobs” since it was signed in February 2009. That untrue statement was called out not only by us, but other fact-finders as well, including debate cosponsor CNN.

Perry makes much use of the word “zero” in this Internet-only ad, which runs 1 minute 45 seconds. Regarding jobs, he chooses his words more carefully than he did in the debate, saying “zero jobs” materialized — in the single month of August. That’s true enough, according to the most recent official job statistics.

Perry’s ad goes on to say (over pictures of shuttered buildings and empty factories) that Obama’s tenure is marked by “ZERO CONFIDENCE … ZERO ‘HOPE’ … ZERO ‘CHANGE.’ ”  We interpret all those as statements of Perry’s opinion, and thus fair game. Anyone is entitled to agree or disagree. And polls show that Americans who say the U.S. is on the “wrong track” outnumber those who think it’s on the “right track” by more than 4 to 1. Plus, consumer confidence — while far from “zero” as measured by the Conference Board — still took a steep plunge in August to the lowest point since 2009.

But Perry’s ad simply gets it wrong about the poverty rate. The Census Bureau said on Sept. 13, when it released the most recent annual figures on poverty and income:

U.S. Census Bureau: The poverty rate in 2010 was the highest since 1993 but was 7.3 percentage points lower than the poverty rate in 1959, the first year for which poverty estimates are available. Since 2007, the poverty rate has increased by 2.6 percentage points.

So the poverty rate is not even close to being the highest in the 51 years for which we have official figures, let alone at an “all-time” high — which would be higher than even during the Great Depression, or the era of slavery.

Perry’s ad may have confused the poverty rate — the percentage of the total population in poverty — with the number in poverty. It’s true that the Census figures show more people in poverty in 2010 than at any time in the previous five decades, and thus a record number. But it’s also true that there are a record number of Americans overall (the population keeps rising every year).

Update, Sept. 21: The Perry campaign also did some creative editing at the beginning of this ad, where Obama is heard saying: “I love these folks who say, well, this is Obama’s economy. That’s fine. Give it to me.” But that’s not exactly the way Obama really put it, though the editing is done so seamlessly that few if any listeners would suspect his remarks had been truncated.

What the president really said — in Michigan on July 14, 2009, after GM and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy — was this (with portions deleted by Perry campaign in bold):

Obama, July 14, 2009: I love these folks who helped get us in this mess and then suddenly say, well, this is Obama’s economy. That’s fine. Give it to me.

What the Perry campaign edited out was Obama’s reference to those in Perry’s party whom he accused of helping to create “this mess.”

At another point in the ad, the president is heard saying: “Despite all the naysayers who were predicting failure a year ago, our economy is growing again.” But what’s not apparent from the ad is that Obama said that in May 2010, a few days after the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the economy had added 290,000 new jobs the month before (later revised downward slightly to 277,000). But listeners might get the idea that the president said it recently.

— Brooks Jackson