The UN Investigates Extreme Poverty in the US and Finds Shocking Inequality

Recently a Texas elementary school teacher tasked her first-grade students with writing a letter to Santa Claus. While Ruth Espiricueta expected requests for ponies and PlayStations, several responses particularly shocked and saddened her.

One letter read: “I have been good this day. This Christmas I would like a ball and a food. I need a blanket.” And Espiricueta says other students asked for items like shoes, beds and a stove.

Though this is merely an anecdote, it provides a striking glimpse into the epidemic of poverty that affects 40.6 million Americans– 12.4 percent of the total population. Tragically, though, American children make up one of the largest impoverished groups at 13.3 million total, or one-third of all Americans in poverty.

The United Nations recently dispatched Special Rappourteur Philip Alstonto the United States to bear witness to the country’s extreme poverty.His findings document the harrowing day-to-day lives of millions Americans mired in extremely trying circumstances.

Alston visited a number of places, including Puerto Rico, California and West Virginia. However, he seemed most stunned at the commonplace poverty in Alabama. There, Alston toured communities with widespread diseases like E. Coli and parasites like hookworm. Both of these health issues are typically associated with the “Third World” — not as common ailment in one of the world’s wealthiest nations.

Poor sanitation and sewage management services are largely to blame, and many Alabama residents — especially in the Black Belt — lack these services altogether.

These conditions are “very uncommon in the First World,” Alston says. “I’d have to say that I haven’t seen this” in other wealthy countries.

After speaking to residents, community leaders and politicians, Alston explains that the idea of American exceptionalism emerged as a recurring theme. Many shared a view that poor people tend to be underachievers who could find a way out of poverty if they so desired. Alston concluded that this opinion may explain why support for social welfare nets is unusually low in the U.S., unlike other rich Western nations.

However, Alston’s findings paint a very different picture of reality. In some states — like Mississippi, New Mexico and Louisiana — one-in-three children live in poverty. And more than one-fifth of all American children are homeless. To claim these children are at fault for their circumstances is, at best, obtuse.

And that doesn’t even take into account adults who face poverty due to uncontrollable circumstances, like medical issues, disabilities, old age or discrimination. And many people who struggle to pay the bills are actively employed without a livable wage.

In his report, Alston notes how, even though the United States spends a significant amount of money on health care, many Americans lack health and dental insurance. This, in turn, creates significant boundaries to escaping poverty — and makes it easier to end up there in the first place.

When it comes to children, though, the expansion of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) means that roughly 95 percent of American children are insured. Unfortunately, both programs are under siege.

Though Congressional Republicans have not yet succeeded in rolling back the expansion of Medicaid — included in the Affordable Care Act — they are making headway in pushing through a massive tax code overhaul that would remove the health care mandate.

Funding for CHIP also remains in limbo, after federal funding lapsed at the end of September.

The United States is one of the world’s richest nations, yet somehow more than one-tenth of its citizens live under the poverty line. And even worse, two branches of the federal government are currently working overtime to gut and undermine what few programs are in place to help the disadvantaged.

At the same time, President Trump is seeking a hefty expansion to military funding. Right now, the United States spends more than any other nation on its armed forces; in fact, it spends more than the next seven nations combined. Defense consumes over half of the federal discretionary budget.

Imagine if even a small portion of this $600 billion budget was diverted to programs that housed families, kept people healthy and allowed them to remain productive.

The massive inequality that exists in contemporary America is unacceptable and simply shameful. We are better than this.

Photo Credit: bodnarchuk / Thinkstock

112 comments

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson1 months ago

Thank you.

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Jack Y
Jack Y2 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y2 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J2 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J2 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R5 months ago

Thank you for posting.

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HEIKKI R
HEIKKI R5 months ago

thank you

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Roberto M
Roberto MARINI5 months ago

thanks for posting this article

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Janis K
Janis K5 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Eric Lees
Eric Lees5 months ago

"The massive inequality that exists in contemporary America is unacceptable and simply shameful. We are better than this."

Agreed and it's not getting any better as long as the Oligarchy is in control.

"The United States is one of the world’s richest nations, yet somehow more than one-tenth of its citizens live under the poverty line."

I do not think that is the case when you factor in all the debt. We used to be a nation of savers and loaned money to other nations.

We need real tax reform, healthcare reform, balanced budget, abolish the FED, end our interventionist foreign policy if we want to get back on track.

Free Market Capitalism is the only system that minimizes inequality. It can never be eliminated completely, life is not fair.

Peace & Liberty is real progress.

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