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United Nations Report Highlights Extreme Poverty in the US

United Nations Report Highlights Extreme Poverty in the US
March 23, 2018 Poverty Facts

United Nations Report Highlights Extreme Poverty in the US

This past December, Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur, spent two weeks observing extreme poverty in the US. His visit comes as drastic shifts in US poverty policy are taking place because of cuts in welfare programs and the change in tax laws. Dr. Alston concludes: “The United States is one of the world’s richest, most powerful and technologically innovative countries; but neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology is being harnessed to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty.”

Dr. Alston shared some statistics. By most indicators, the US is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. YET:

  • In inequality and poverty rates, the US rates 35 out of 37 among the OECD countries (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development which consists of 35 largely high income and extremely developed countries)  
  • The US has the highest youth poverty rate of any of the OECD countries. In 2016, 18% of US children – some 13.3 million – were living in poverty, with children comprising 32.6% of all people in poverty. 
  • Racial stereotypes flourish about poverty. And racial inequalities abound. 42% of all Black children are poor. Yet, 31% of all poor children are White, compared to 24% of poor children being Black.
  • In September 2017, more than 1 in every 8 Americans were living in poverty (40 million, or to 12.7% of the population) as defined by the Census Bureau. Almost half of those (18.5 million) were living in deep poverty, meaning their family income was less than half of the poverty threshold.
  • In 2013, the US had the highest infant mortality rate in the developed world.
  • The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

While the US response to poverty is grossly inadequate, our current programs do help. 95% of children across the US have health care. Dr. Alston writes, “Other support programs are also important, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which is estimated to lift some five million children out of poverty annually, while in 2015 the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) lifted a further five million children out of poverty.”

Dr. Alston found that stereotypes of poverty were everywhere—and clouded people’s approach. The poor continue to be characterized as lazy and as criminals—or at least scammers. Yet Dr. Alston said: “The poor people I met from among the 40 million living in poverty were overwhelmingly either persons who had been born into poverty, or those who had been thrust there by circumstances largely beyond their control such as physical or mental disabilities, divorce, family breakdown, illness, old age, unlivable wages, or discrimination in the job market.”

Dr. Alston draws some stark conclusions including: “The United States is alone among developed countries in insisting that while human rights are of fundamental importance, they do not include rights that guard against dying of hunger, dying from a lack of access to affordable healthcare, or growing up in a context of total deprivation.”

Visit the United Nations page here to read his full report.

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