U.N. Study Exposes American Poverty

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In his “campaign rallies,” and in Twitter, Trump often credits his economic approach for creating “the greatest economy in the HISTORY of America.” However, on June 21, U.N. investigator, Philip Alston, presented a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council that told a very different story —

* 40 million Americans live in poverty. 5.3 million Americans live in “Third World conditions of absolute poverty.”

* Among Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development countries, the U.S. has the highest youth poverty rate, and the highest infant mortality rate.

* Four out of ten Americans cannot cover an emergency expense of $400 without borrowing money or selling possessions.

* The top 1% of the U.S. population owns 38.6% of the total wealth.

Alston’s study, carried out last December, included Skid Row in Los Angeles, African American communities in Alabama, the hard-hit coal country in West Virginia, and hurricane-racked Puerto Rico. He described, “people who have lost all of their teeth because adult dental care is not covered in programs for the poor,” and Puerto Ricans living next to mountains of toxic coal ash. In Alabama, he found cesspools of sewage that have led to a resurgence of hookworm, which thrives in conditions of poor sanitation. A recent study found that more than one-third of people surveyed in Alabama tested positive for hookworm.

Alston found that, “the U.S. already leads the developed world in income and wealth inequality, and is now moving full steam ahead to make itself even more unequal,” citing the $1.5 trillion in tax cuts that Trump passed in December of 2017, which “overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and worsened inequality.” Simultaneously, Trump cut a third of the food stamp program, and proposed to triple the base rent for federally subsidized housing. Alston said, “It’s a very deliberate attempt to remove basic protections from the poorest, punish the unemployed, and make even basic health care into a privilege to be earned rather than a right of citizenship.” He concluded that the U.S. is “building a society where wealth and privilege will dominate everything. The persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power, amounting to a violation of civil and political rights.”

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times,¹ Alston elaborated — “There’s been a systematic effort by conservatives to promote the notion that anyone who is receiving money from the government is shameful and offensive. Yet the rich receive vastly more money from the government, and that’s not considered shameful.” He pointed out “caricatured narratives” that hold up the rich as drivers of economic progress, while slamming the poor as “wasters, losers and scammers.”

The report takes special note that the inequalities “affect African Americans in particular, where they just come out worse on every possible indicator, and policies are clearly designed to hit them harder.” On the flip side, it cautions that “the equality of opportunity, which is so prized in theory, is in practice a myth, especially for minorities and women, but also for many middle-class White workers.” Nobel prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz added, “Can you believe a country where the life expectancy is already in decline, particularly among those whose income is limited, giving tax breaks to billionaires and corporations while leaving millions of Americans without health insurance?” Stiglitz warned that Trump’s assault, “bodes ill for society as a whole. The proposed slashing of social protection benefits will affect the middle class every bit as much as the poor.”²

“The American dream is rapidly becoming the American illusion,” is the scathing message that the report delivered to the U.N. Human Rights Council. That message was scorned and dismissed by the Trump administration. Republican Party leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican committee chairs have declined to comment. Rather than addressing the contents of the report, Trump’s U.N. Ambassador, Nikki Haley, chose instead to criticize the U.N. Human Rights Council.

¹ Los Angeles Times 6/6/2018

² The Guardian 6/1/2018

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