So begins a two-week journey into the dark side of the American Dream. The spotlight of the UN monitor, an independent arbiter of human rights standards across the globe, has fallen on this occasion on the US, culminating on Friday with the release of his initial report in Washington.
His fact-finding mission into the richest nation the world has ever known has led him to investigate the tragedy at its core: the 41 million people who officially live in poverty.
Of those, nine million have zero cash income – they do not receive a cent in sustenance.
Alston’s epic journey has taken him from coast to coast, deprivation to deprivation. Starting in LA and San Francisco, sweeping through the Deep South, traveling on to the colonial stain of Puerto Rico then back to the stricken coal country of West Virginia, he has explored the collateral damage of America’s reliance on private enterprise to the exclusion of public help.
Think of it as payback time. As the UN special rapporteur himself put it: “Washington is very keen for me to point out the poverty and human rights failings in other countries. This time I’m in the US.”
The tour comes at a critical moment for America and the world. It began on the day that Republicans in the US Senate voted for sweeping tax cuts that will deliver a bonanza for the super wealthy while in time raising taxes on many lower-income families. The changes will exacerbate wealth inequality that is already the most extreme in any industrialized nation, with three men – Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet – owning as much as half of the entire American people.
It is not surprising that white families in West Virginia should have responded positively to Trump’s charm offensive, given that he offered them the world – “We’re going to put the miners back to work!” After all, numerically a majority of all those living in poverty nationwide – 27 million people – are white.
In West Virginia in particular, white families have a lot to feel sore about. Mechanization and the decline of coal mining have decimated the state, leading to high unemployment and stagnant wages. The transfer of jobs from the mines and steel mills to Walmart has led to male workers earning on average $3.50 an hour less today than they did in 1979.
What is surprising is that so many proud working folk should have entrusted their dreams to a (supposed) billionaire who built his real estate empire on the back of handouts from his father.
Before he ran for the presidency, Trump showed scant interest in the struggles of low-income families, white or otherwise. After almost a year in the Oval Office, there is similarly little sign of those campaign promises being kept.
And so it was that Philip Alston boarded one last plane and headed for Washington, carrying with him the distilled torment of the American people.
At one point in the trip Alston revealed that he had had a sleepless night, reflecting on the lost souls we had met in Skid Row.
He wondered about how a person in his position – “I’m old, male, white, rich and I live very well” – would react to one of those homeless people. “He would look at him and see someone who is dirty, who doesn’t wash, who he doesn’t want to be around.”
Then Alston had an epiphany.
“I realized that’s how government sees them. But what I see is the failure of society. I see a society that let that happen, that is not doing what it should. And it’s very sad.”
At the heart of Philip Alston’s special mission will be one question: can Americans enjoy fundamental human rights if they’re unable to meet basic living standards?
The United Nations monitor on extreme poverty and human rights has embarked on a coast-to-coast tour of the US to hold the world’s richest nation – and its president – to account for the hardships endured by America’s most vulnerable citizens.
The tour, which kicked off on Friday morning, will make stops in four states as well as Washington DC and the US territory of Puerto Rico. It will focus on several of the social and economic barriers that render the American dream merely a pipe dream to millions – from homelessness in California to racial discrimination in the Deep South, cumulative neglect in Puerto Rico and the decline of industrial jobs in West Virginia.
With 41 million Americans officially in poverty according to the US Census Bureau (other estimates put that figure much higher), one aim of the UN mission will be to demonstrate that no country, however wealthy, is immune from human suffering induced by growing inequality. Nor is any nation, however powerful, beyond the reach of human rights law – a message that the US government and Donald Trump might find hard to stomach given their tendency to regard internal affairs as sacrosanct.
... At the heart of his fact-finding tour will be a question that is causing increasing anxiety at a troubled time: is it possible, in one of the world’s leading democracies, to enjoy fundamental human rights such as political participation or voting rights if you are unable to meet basic living standards, let alone engage, as Thomas Jefferson put it, in the pursuit of happiness?
Alston himself is reserving his comments until the end of the tour. But his published work suggests that he is likely to be a formidable critic of the new president. In a lecture he gave last year on the challenges posed by Trump and other modern populist leaders, he warned that their agenda was “avowedly nationalistic, xenophobic, misogynistic, and explicitly antagonistic to all or much of the human rights agenda”.
Alston concluded the speech by saying: “These are extraordinarily dangerous times, unprecedentedly so in my lifetime. The response is really up to us.”
The UN poverty tour falls at a singularly tense moment for the US. In its 2016 state of the nation review, the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality placed the US rank at the bottom of the league table of 10 well-off countries, in terms of the extent of its income and wealth inequality.
It also found that the US hit rock bottom in terms of the safety net it offers struggling families, and is one of the worst offenders in terms of the ability of low-income families to lift themselves out of poverty – a stark contrast to the much-vaunted myth of the American dream.
So 27 million of 41 million people in poverty are white (66%) ... and many of them voted for Trump.
I'm sure the full report will be an eye-opener for some people, and that republicans will tend to ignore it or disparage the findings. But if Democrats are smart they will have another widely extending issue to campaign on. If they can get out of the hole they have dug themselves into with the DNC policies.
Whats so great about getting paid in trinkets only good at the company shop?
Edited by Phat, : changed union to company
Chance as a real force is a myth. It has no basis in reality and no place in scientific inquiry. For science and philosophy to continue to advance in knowledge, chance must be demythologized once and for all. –RC Sproul "A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." –Mark Twain " ~"If that's not sufficient for you go soak your head."~Faith Paul was probably SO soaked in prayer nobody else has ever equaled him.~Faith :)
Indeed, the plan of the 1% is to enslave everyone else. They started with increased incarceration and built the path from school to prison. Then laws take away your voting rights for minor infractions, and if you can't pay the fine you spend time in (debtors) jail until your hearing. Congratulations you now have a prison record.
Next reduce wages and benefits to drive more people into poverty. Seize their houses when they can't pay the mortgage. Put them on the streets, now they jailed for vagrancy.
Meanwhile prisons are doing very well making profit off inmate labor, cleaning highways, fighting forest fires, making license plates, etc
Orange is the new black, one size fits all.
Making America Great ... for who? (Did anyone ever ask that question?)
I have spent the past two weeks visiting the United States, at the invitation of the federal government, to look at whether the persistence of extreme poverty in America undermines the enjoyment of human rights by its citizens. In my travels through California, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, and Washington DC I have spoken with dozens of experts and civil society groups, met with senior state and federal government officials and talked with many people who are homeless or living in deep poverty. I am grateful to the Trump administration for facilitating my visit and for its continuing cooperation with the UN Human Rights Council’s accountability mechanisms that apply to all states.
My visit coincides with a dramatic change of direction in US policies relating to inequality and extreme poverty. The proposed tax reform package stakes out America’s bid to become the most unequal society in the world, and will greatly increase the already high levels of wealth and income inequality between the richest 1% and the poorest 50% of Americans. The dramatic cuts in welfare, foreshadowed by Donald Trump and speaker Ryan, and already beginning to be implemented by the administration, will essentially shred crucial dimensions of a safety net that is already full of holes. It is against this background that my report is presented.
American exceptionalism was a constant theme in my conversations. But instead of realizing its founders’ admirable commitments, 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. As a result, contrasts between private wealth and public squalor abound.
By most indicators, the US is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. It spends more on national defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France and Japan combined.
US healthcare expenditures per capita are double the OECD average and much higher than in all other countries. But there are many fewer doctors and hospital beds per person than the OECD average.
US infant mortality rates in 2013 were the highest in the developed world.
Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy, and the “health gap” between the US and its peer countries continues to grow.
US inequality levels are far higher than those in most European countries
Neglected tropical diseases, including Zika, are increasingly common in the USA. It has been estimated that 12 million Americans live with a neglected parasitic infection. A 2017 report documents the prevalence of hookworm in Lowndes County, Alabama.
The US has the highest prevalence of obesity in the developed world.
In terms of access to water and sanitation the US ranks 36th in the world.
America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, ahead of Turkmenistan, El Salvador, Cuba, Thailand and the Russian Federation. Its rate is nearly five times the OECD average.
The youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14% across the OECD.
The Stanford Center on Inequality and Poverty ranks the most well-off countries in terms of labor markets, poverty, safety net, wealth inequality, and economic mobility. The US comes in last of the top 10 most well-off countries, and 18th amongst the top 21.
In the OECD the US ranks 35th out of 37 in terms of poverty and inequality.
According to the World Income Inequality Database, the US has the highest Gini rate (measuring inequality) of all Western Countries
The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality characterizes the US as “a clear and constant outlier in the child poverty league”. US child poverty rates are the highest amongst the six richest countries – Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden and Norway.