UNITED NATIONS - Despite enormous wealth and various federal and social welfare schemes at work, the United States is failing to help millions of its people trying to get out of poverty, according to an independent United Nations rights expert.
"Resource constraints have limited the reach of the assistance programs and social discrimination has aggravated the problems in many situations resulting in poverty clearly seen as a violation of human rights," Dr. Arjun Sengupta declared after visiting the United States last month.
"If the United States government designed and implemented the policies according to human rights standards much of the problem of poverty could be resolved," he added.
Dr. Sengupta, an expert on human rights and extreme poverty of the world body's Commission on Human Rights, said he chose to visit the United States because he wanted to illustrate that extreme poverty was not only prevalent in developing countries, but a phenomenon that is found in most nations in the world, according to U.N. officials.
"The case of the United States was particularly interesting as it presented an apparent paradox: as the wealthiest country on Earth, with higher per capita income levels than any other country, the United States has also had one of the highest incidences of poverty among the rich industrialized nations," Dr. Sengupta said.
The official statistics released in his report to the U.N. show that over 12 percent of the United States population--or about 37 million people--lived in poverty in 2004, with nearly 16 percent--or about 46 million--having no health insurance.
The report indicates that more than 38 million people, including 14 million children, are threatened by lack of food.
Dr. Sengupta's report also shows that ethnic minorities are suffering more from extreme poverty than white Americans. Compared to one in ten Whites, nearly one in four Blacks and more than one out of every five Latinos are extremely poor in the United States.
Moreover, despite the overall U.S. economic recovery, the report says the incidence of poverty, including food insecurity and homelessness, has been on the rise over the past years.
During his two-week fact-finding mission, Dr. Sengupta visited neighborhoods in New York, Florida, Washington, D.C., and in many other cities, including New Orleans, where he met with a number of civil society groups and constitutional lawyers.
U.N. officials say the purpose of the visit was to "consider and learn from experiences" of the United States in addressing the different aspects of extreme poverty: income poverty, human development poverty, and social exclusion.
The independent expert noted that a multitude of federal and state benefit systems and means-tested programs have been designed to provide assistance to poor people, but noted that there were "significant gaps" in the current system.
The report identifies high costs of healthcare, inadequate access to quality education and vocational training, low wages, limited protection of tenants, and lack of low-cost housing as major factors that pose "serious obstacles" to people struggling to get out of poverty.
"Poverty is not only deprivation of economic or material resources, but a violation of human rights too," according to the Geneva-based U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
"No social phenomenon is as comprehensive in its assault on human rights as poverty," it says. "Poverty erodes or nullifies economic and social rights such as the right to health, adequate housing, food, safe water, and the right to education."
In addition to Dr. Sengupta's findings, a similar report is also under circulation at the world body, which point to human rights abuses in the United States.
In response to the U.S. State Department's annual documentation of human rights violations worldwide, the Chinese government released its own report on the subject with scathing criticism of Washington's economic and social policies.
"Black people have not only fewer job opportunities, but also earn less than white people," says the Chinese report, "The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2004," noting that some fifty years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, "white children and black children in the United States still lead largely separate lives."
"About a third [of southern Black students] attend schools that are at least 90 percent minority," the report points out, citing a Washington Post article.
"The Declaration of Independence said all men are created equal, so the gap between black and white people is simply an insult to the founding essence of the United States," the report said.
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