A new survey revealed that evangelical Christians are less concerned about poverty than the average American, while atheists are the least likely group to participate in activities to combat poverty.
Overall, Americans are concerned about poverty with three out of four adults (72 percent) considering poverty to be one of the most serious social problems facing the United States today, according to a national survey by The Barna Group. The figure includes the one out of every five adults (21 percent) who think poverty is the single, most serious social problem of all.
Yet evangelical Christians are only half as likely (11 percent) as the rest of American adults to rank poverty as the nation's greatest social problem.
Moreover, born-again Christians were somewhat more likely than non-Christians to donate money to organizations addressing global poverty and to give food directly to poor people, but otherwise the two groups showed few differences.
"Given the extensive comments in the Bible regarding the importance of taking care of the poor, we expected to see a larger distinction between the responses of Christians and non-Christians," commented George Barna, who directed the study.
However, atheists and agnostics were the group of people least likely to do anything in response to poverty, according to the survey. This segment of the population was the least likely to participate in eight of the nine specific responses to poverty listed in the survey.
Although most Americans are concerned about poverty, they carry the misperception that poverty is much more pervasive than in actuality. Participant's average estimate of the percentage of people in the United States living in poverty was 30 percent when federal statistics estimate the current poverty level to be about 13 percent of the U.S. population.
As explanation, the survey found perception of the country's poverty level reflected the pollster's personal economic and educational level. The survey discovered that the lower a person's income or education level, the more likely the person will estimate a higher poverty rate.
People living in households earning less than $35,000 annually, and people who had a high school education or less estimated the national poverty rate to be 40 percent. Americans who come from households earning under $30,000 annually and with no college education estimated poverty to be the condition of 50 percent of all Americans.
In contrast, people from households earning over $60,000 and those with a college degree estimated the poverty rate to be 20 percent.
"Although many public officials seem to assume that Americans are not sufficiently engaged in efforts to ameliorate or eliminate poverty, the data show a different story," Barna said.
The researcher noted that most people consider poverty to be a serious issue, are counting on the government to resolve poverty in society, and have taken various actions to alleviate the problem.
"However, the study also shows that Americans are poorly informed about America's poverty. They radically overestimate how many people the government identifies as poor, and they believe things have become much worse over the last quarter-century, when in fact the incidence of poverty has remained about the same," Barna commented.
Two out of every three adults (66 percent) believe the percentage of people living in poverty today is higher than it was 25 years ago. In reality, the current national poverty rate (13 percent) fits in the past 40 year's range of 12-15 percent.
The Barna report is based on a nationwide telephone survey conducted on 1,003 adults age 18 and older in January 2007.