Philip Alston is the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. He traveled to the United States last December to some of our most destitute communities such as Skid Row in LA, poor African American areas in the Alabama, impoverished coal communities in West Virginia and to Puerto Rico. He issued his report on June 1, 2018. It should be front page news.
Five million live in the absolute deprivation we usually associate with the developing world.
The report is a terrible indictment of our country and of the Trump Administration. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize winning economist told The Guardian “This administration inherited a bad situation with inequality in the U.S. and is now fanning the flames and worsening the situation. What is so disturbing is that Trump, rather than taking measures to ameliorate the problem, is taking measures to aggravate it.” The U.S. has one in four of the world’s billionaires. But we also have 40 million citizens who live in poverty. Five million live in the absolute deprivation we usually associate with the developing world. Four in ten Americans are so broke that they could not cover an emergency expense of $400 without selling something or borrowing.
The symptoms of the devastating inequality here include Americans now living shorter and sicker lives than citizens of other rich democracies. Life expectancy is down two years in a row. Tropical diseases are on the rise. Our incarceration rate remains the highest in the world (yes, we are exceptional!). Voter registration levels are among the lowest in industrialized countries: 64% of our citizens are registered (fewer vote) compared to 91% in Canada and the UK and 99% in Japan.
We need mass and vocal support for policies such as a Federal job guarantee (locally administered), free healthcare and education for all and help for former prisoners to reintegrate back into society.
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As another measure of how much of an outlier in the advanced world the U.S. has become, we can look at the fact that in 1980 the top 1% of the population in the U.S. and Europe held about 10% of the national income. But in 2017, the top 1% in Europe edged up to 12% of national income, but in the U.S. the top 1% grabs up to 20% and rising.
The Trump Administration is making inequality worse. First with the tax cut that rewarded the wealthiest individuals and companies. Then, Trump and the Republicans are stripping healthcare benefits, food stamps and cutting housing subsidies for the poorest Americans. The UN report says the assumption among the politicians who support these cruel policies is that the poor are lazy, don’t want to work, and are dedicated to defrauding the welfare system. Several officials in the government told Alston that scamming the system was rampant but presented no evidence for this assertion.
Instead of the corporate media basically ignoring the UN report, there should be screaming headlines. This report is a wakeup call. Now we need mass and vocal support for policies such as a Federal job guarantee (locally administered), free healthcare and education for all and help for former prisoners to reintegrate back into society.