The United Nations Investigates Poverty in the United States

The United Nations recently sponsored a tour of United States to examine the social and economic barriers that are contributing to poverty in the world’s richest nation. The tour, conducted by the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, an Australian who teaches at New York University’s law school, visited Puerto Rico, Washington DC, California, West Virginia, and several other states to study homelessness, the decline of industrial jobs, racial discrimination, and other factors that plague the nation’s poor.

David Grusky, the director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Stanford, insisted that Alston’s tour could call attention to the problems of America’s poorest citizens at a time when “globalization combined with a host of domestic policies have generated a vast gulf between rich and poor.”

The Stanford Center contends that the extent of income and wealth inequality in the US is the greatest among the world’s ten wealthiest countries.  It also argues that the safety net the US provides struggling families is the worst of any of these nations and that most low-income families have no ability to attain the American dream.  Because of efforts to repeal Obamacare, the threat of discontinuing the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which provided medical assistance to almost nine million children in 2016, and the potential impact of the proposed tax cuts, life could become even more difficult for America’s poorest citizens.

Americans’ reaction to Alston’s tour, Grusky asserts, may go either way. “It has the potential to open our eyes to what an outlier the US has become compared with the rest of the world, or it could precipitate an adverse reaction towards an outsider who has no legitimacy telling us what to do about internal US affairs.”

Alston will announce his preliminary findings in Washington on December 15, so stay tuned.

Gary SmithComment