A report compiled by United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty Philip Alston shows that the policies enacted by the current administration are the direct cause for worsening levels of poverty in the United States.
Among its many findings, the report shows that 40 million Americans are currently living in poverty, and that 18.5 million Americans are living in extreme poverty. Of the 40 million, 13 million of those are children.
In addition, Alston found that the United States has the highest rate of income inequality out of any Western country as well as one of the lowest rates of intergenerational social mobility — meaning it’s getting harder for each generation to change their social status, to work their way up from the lower to the middle classes, rather than getting easier.
In response to the report, a group of leading Democrats have sent a letter to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
The signatories of the letter include Senators Bernie Sanders (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).
“We believe the massive levels of deprivation outlined in the report — as well as the immense suffering this deprivation causes — are an affront to any notion of the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Given the breadth of poverty outlined in the report, these rights are simply illusory for millions in this country.”
And Alston’s report does indeed support the congressmembers’ conclusions.
“For almost five decades the overall policy response has been neglectful at best, but the policies pursued over the past year seem deliberately designed to remove basic protections from the poorest, punish those who are not in employment and make even basic health care into a privilege to be earned rather than a right of citizenship.”
Alston addressed the inevitable effects such poverty has on a country’s democracy, commenting on his study in an interview on DemocracyNow!
“But the other thing that my report looks at, which is equally important, is the threat to democracy, of course, that if you consistently make life less manageable for those who are living in poverty, if you start to cut back on those who are able to vote, if you start making it more difficult—the latest Supreme Court decision, in relation to Ohio, making it feasible for the state to eliminate lots of voters—all of these affect, overwhelmingly, those who are not wealthy. And that presents—that means that the assault, in economic terms, represents a major threat to the democracy. So, my report focuses then on the implications of this for what we call civil and political rights in the United States.”
Naturally, such rampant levels of poverty inevitably affect quality of life — the United States is quite possibly the only industrialized country in the world in which life expectancy rates are falling rather than climbing.
And despite the fact that we spend more and more on healthcare each year, the United States actually has the worst level of healthcare in the industrialized world.
Another issue Alston points to as a contributor to both poverty as well as the declining rate of life expectancy is the fact that the United States is the only country in the world that has not yet ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
This means that the United States has effectively refused to acknowledge children’s rights, which of course enables the government to avoid guaranteeing a base level of well-being to children in this country.
“So, I think it is deeply problematic, and I think it would be very good if the United States were to look at itself and say, “Why is is that we are the only country in the entire world that doesn’t accept the notion that children have human rights?”” — Alston
The report has been sent to Haley, and Alston will present his findings to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva next week. As of now, neither the U.S. government nor Haley herself have responded to the report.