Spotlight Exclusives

UN Report Warns of US Poverty and Inequality

Spotlight Staff Spotlight Staff, posted on

Poverty and inequality pose a deep threat to American society, according to a recent United Nations Report.

At the invitation of the federal government, Philip Alston, professor at NYU School of Law and United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, recently embarked on a fact-finding trip throughout the United States. Alston’s two-week visit took him to California, Alabama, West Virginia, Georgia, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C., where he met with state and local officials, civil society groups and other experts, as well as individuals living in poverty.

Alston’s initial conclusions are stark: The United States is failing to adequately address poverty and inequality of wealth and income, threatening the well-being of its citizens.

“The United States is one of the world’s richest, most powerful and technologically innovative countries; but neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology is being harnessed to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty,” Alston said in a written statement.

He held a press conference on his initial findings on Friday and will provide a more detailed written report in the spring of 2018.

His findings paint a bleak picture of the challenges facing low-income Americans and the lack of political will in confronting them. And he contrasted the United States’ high poverty rates and lack of social mobility with stated commitments to the “American Dream” and “American exceptionalism.”

He also highlighted several specific challenges recently covered by Spotlight including the lack of adequate sanitation systems in the South and the growing criminalization of poverty across the country.

At the same time, Alston praised an “energized civil society” that is doing its best to fill holes in the safety net. He mentioned a church in San Francisco that opens its pews to the homeless when it is not in use and a community health initiative in rural West Virginia staffed entirely by volunteers.

Alston tied his findings back to the current debates in Congress. He warned that the tax reform bill currently under consideration could exacerbate economic inequality and trigger cuts in a social safety net that is already stretched thin.

“While most other nations, and all of the major international institutions such as the OECD, the World Bank, and the IMF have acknowledged that extreme inequalities in wealth and income are economically inefficient and socially damaging, the tax reform package is essentially a bid to make the US the world champion of extreme inequality,” Alston said in his initial statement.

« Back to Spotlight Exclusives