The United Nations’ May 4th report by the Special Rapporteur revealed that 40 million people in the US live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty, and 5 million in absolute poverty. He went on to say the United States has the highest rate of income inequality among Western countries, and it systemically ignores its poor population in favor of providing tax breaks to corporations. The Rapporteur cites negative stereotypes against poor populations as a cause for the continuous cuts to social welfare programs that put those living in poverty at even higher risk.
On June 21, 2018, the UN Ambassador from the United States claimed in a letter we should not be having a conversation about poverty in the US. The letter suggested the Special Rapporteur was “politically motivated” in his report, arguing the idea that discussing poverty in the US is not a good use of UN time or resources. It mentions Burundi, where nearly 60% of citizens live in extreme poverty, and suggests that the UN’s criticism of the US is deflecting attention from this crisis to the world’s “wealthiest and freest country”.
At America Solidaria, we believe that all people living in poverty should receive aid, regardless of whether they live within countries with a high GDP. While the statistics on poverty in Burundi are disheartening, it does nothing to diminish the importance of poverty in one of the most industrially developed nations. Excluding the United States from the discussion of poverty effectively prevents more than 12% of its entire population from gaining economic support. Additionally, the Special Rapporteur states that 18% of US children are living below the poverty line. These children are unable to receive adequate cognitive stimulation, nutrition, and health care which, among other factors, likely lead to adverse life outcomes, like lower cognitive development and social achievements.
We should be talking about poverty in the United States. While other countries may have higher overall rates of poverty, the US faces the greatest income disparity of any Western country, and continues to perform below average in social protection for adults and children than other similarly-industrialized nations. Discussing and seeking to fix poverty within the US will not diminish our capability to fix poverty in other nations.