By DAVID INTROCASO, Ph.D.
In May Philip Alston, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, and John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law at New York University Law School released his, “Report of the Special Rapporteur On Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on His Mission to the United States.” The 20-page report was based, in part, on Alston’s visits this past December to California, Georgia, Puerto Rico, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. After reading the report and the response to it, one is again forced to question how legitimate is our concern for the health and well being of the poor, or those disproportionately burdened with disease.
The UN report found over 40 million Americans live in poverty, or upwards of 14% of the population. Those living in extreme poverty number 18.5 million and 5.3 million live in 3rd World absolute poverty. Among other related statistics, Alston cites the fact the US has the highest comparable infant mortality rate, 50% higher than the OECD mean, due in part to an African American mortality rate that is 2.3 times higher than that of whites. The US has the highest youth poverty rate in the OECD. In 2016, 18% of children were living in poverty comprising 33% of all people in living poverty and 21% of those were homeless. These facts are explained in part by the report noting between 1995 and 2012 there was a 750% increase in the number of children of single mothers experiencing annual $2-a-day poverty. US poverty, the report explains is due in part to the continuing growth in income and wealth inequality. The report found in 2016 the top 1% possessed 39% of the nation’s wealth while the bottom 90% lost 25% of its share of wealth and income. Since 1980 annual income for the top 1% has risen 205% and for the top .1% by 636% while annual wages for the bottom 50% have stagnated. The report reminds us the US has approximately 5% of the world’s population but 25% of its billionaires. The US in sum ranks 18th out of 21 wealthy countries in labor markets, poverty rates, safety nets, wealth inequality and economic mobility.