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The UN’s Extreme Poverty Report: Further Evidence US Healthcare Is Divorced From Reality

By DAVID INTROCASO, Ph.D.

Skid Row in Los Angeles

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.

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Shifts in Humanitarian Aid: A Look at Post-Recession Data

A few agencies have recently published their concerns that the “double dip” recession will negatively affect humanitarian aid, even as the worst famine in decades continues to hit East Africa. Have aid levels really been affected by the recession? If so, which countries are likely to feel the most impact? What factors are shaping aid decisions? In this post, we look at the latest data from the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC), the definitive source for international humanitarian aid data, and discuss the changes in aid that have transpired since the start of the 2007 recession.

Overall trends

If humanitarian aid shifts during this recession, such a shift would be a new phenomenon; when we investigated global aid trends during prior recessions, we found that aid usually didn’t significantly change during or soon after economic downturns, probably because foreign assistance is such as small part of government budgets, and because aid changes are often driven by disasters and conflicts rather than supply-side politics alone.

The first graph above depicts global humanitarian aid from 2006 to 2009 (all graphs are courtesy of GHA; note that the colors in this graph are incorrect for the last column, which should be black on top and green on the bottom). As shown in the graph, humanitarian aid actually increased a bit during 2008, likely reflecting commitments made before the recession. But aid then decreased 11% to $15.1 billion in 2009. The 2010 numbers won’t be released until later this year. The available figures refer to forms of aid that reach “delivery agencies” such as United Nations subsidiaries, non-governmental organizations and the Red Cross. Of note, while the 2008 contribution from governments is smaller than 2007, it still remains higher than earlier years. Of particular interest is that private donations have increased almost 50% since 2006 and have remained steady during the recession.

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