The United Nations launched an investigation this year to report on extreme poverty in the U.S., visiting towns in Alabama, California, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C., and as expected, the results thus far are extremely bleak.
“Some might ask why a U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights would visit a country as rich as the United States,” Phillip Alston, a NYU law and human rights professor leading the report, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “But despite great wealth in the U.S., there also exists a great poverty and inequality.”
The report on the initial findings, which were released on December 15, 2017, documented homelessness, unsafe sanitation and sewage disposal practices as well as police surveillance, criminalization and harassment of the poor. The findings also (unsurprisingly) show that the rise in poverty disproportionately affects people of color and women. The report concluded that the pervasiveness of poverty and inequality “are shockingly at odds with [the United States’] immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights.”
The United States has the highest child poverty rates — 25 percent — in the so-called developed world.
“The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion, as the United States now has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries,” said Alston. “Today’s United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights.”
In Alabama, there’s been an outbreak of E. Coli and hookworm, an issue that hasn’t afflicted the U.S. in over 100 years. The parasite primarily thrives in regions of extreme poverty in places like South America, South Asia and Southeast Asia. The outbreak can be attributed to poor sanitation. In places like Butler County, raw sewage flows from homes through exposed PVC pipes and into open trenches and pits. Residents in Butler and Lowndes counties often become sick due to inconsistent access to clean drinking water.
“I think it’s very uncommon in the First World,” Alston said. “This is not a sight that one normally sees. I’d have to say that I haven’t seen this.”
According to the report, 40 million Americans live in poverty, and 18.5 million in deep poverty, which U.N. investigators defined as people reporting income less tan one-half of the poverty threshold. The United States has the highest child poverty rates — 25 percent — in the so-called developed world.
Alston also said that the recent changes for the U.S. tax and welfare policies could make America the most unequal society in the world.
“There is no other developed country where so many voters are disenfranchised and where so few poor voters even care to go to the polls, and where ordinary voters ultimately have so little impact on political outcomes,” Alston continued. “There are no other developed countries in which so many citizens are behind bars.”
The remainder of Alston’s research will be conducted in 2018, with the findings to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2018.