Further evincing the United States fall from its factious stint as the world’s benevolent superpower, a delegation from the United Nations kicked off an investigatory tour of four states, the swamp itself Washington, D.C., and still-desperate, hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico — locations rife with poverty, and, particularly, in areas of marked wealth disparity — to hold the president and nation accountable for neglecting its most desperate.
It won’t be difficult for the group to see the ubiquitous symptoms.
For holding the inglorious distinction as the planet’s wealthiest nation, the U.S. continues applying ineffective patches to cavernous holes in a system allowing its most vulnerable to suffer egregiously and needlessly — while the affluent, to no necessary fault of their own, horde billions away in tax havens or work legerdemain with intricate tax laws to their advantage — so far removed from one another as to be literally unrecognizable in a switch.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest statistics published this September, 40.6 million Americans live in poverty.
However, that figure ignores several mitigating factors — and was thus revisited by Pew Research to staggering ends. As Pew points out,“categorizing people as below or above the poverty line is just one way of looking at economic well-being.
“The share of the U.S. poor population in severe poverty — defined by the Census Bureau as those with family or individual incomes below half of their poverty threshold – reached its highest point in at least 20 years. It was 45.6% in 2016, up from 39.5% in 1996. (The share of the total U.S. population in severe poverty has declined over the past two years, alongside the overall poverty rate.)
“Poverty thresholds, which are used by the Census Bureau to calculate the U.S. poverty rate, vary across families. The Census poverty thresholds in 2016 ranged from around $12,000 for a single-person family to around $25,000 for a family of four, and higher still for larger families. In comparison, the median household income for all households was $59,039 in 2016. For family households only, median household income was $75,062.”
Poor families not only increased in number, but decreased in income — creating still larger gaps with household deficits soaring among the impoverished. Pew continues,
“The average family income deficit — that is, the amount a family’s income is below its poverty threshold — was $10,505 for all families in poverty in 2016 (excluding individuals living without other family members). After years of gradual increases, it marks a recent high, up roughly $1,000 from 2000 when the average deficit was $9,509 (after adjusting for inflation).”
Sterile statistics can never fully encompass the misery wrought by living in abject poverty; and, as the Guardian’s Ed Pilkington reports, delegates from the United Nations aim to emphasize the message that no nation — no matter its gilded affluence — can ignore its duty to alleviate suffering and not be held liable.
Of course, that seems a tall order of the imperialist nation responsible for wide scale war and destruction, as well as a despicable record of partnering cozily with heinous abusers of human rights — but, Pilkington explains, this team comes appropriately equipped for the job:
“The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, is a feisty Australian and New York University law professor who has a fearsome track record of holding power to account. He tore a strip off the Saudi Arabian regime for its treatment of women months before the kingdom legalized their right to drive, denounced the Brazilian government for attacking the poor through austerity, and even excoriated the UN itself for importing cholera to Haiti.
“The US is no stranger to Alston’s withering tongue, having come under heavy criticism from him for its program of drone strikes on terrorist targets abroad. In his previous role as UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Alston blamed the Obama administration and the CIA for killing many innocent civilians in attacks he said were of dubious international legality.”
Having served as the U.N. monitor on extreme poverty since 2014, Alston marks his sixth such investigatory trip with the States — a potentially explosive dig into the bowels of poverty, income and quality of life stratification, and oppression through dearth in opportunity. An uncomfortable if severely lacking list of systemic woes which have long wearied activists and advocates, but which now stand complicit in rampant, and growing, strife.
“Despite great wealth in the US, there also exists great poverty and inequality,” Alston, cited by the Guardian, observed in a statement released prior to the trip. Of specific interest to the special rapporteur are the evisceration of civil and political rights of Americans impacted harshly by poverty, and, he continued, “given the United States’ consistent emphasis on the importance it attaches to these rights in its foreign policy, and given that it has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
For a nation boasting its particular brand of bullshit is somehow exceptional over all others, mushrooming populations of the unhoused, impossible housing deficits, and Americans not even able to comfortably stretch one paycheck to the next would scream to unfinished business of paramount importance.
Indeed, as Westerners from nations of proportionally similar circumstance gaze in horror upon untenable American societal stratification — and its deleterious effects — poverty experts are salivating in wait for the U.N. team’s dissection of the wooly mammoth in the room, which a succession of presidents have failed detrimentally to acknowledge.
On the opposite, narrowing, end of the wealth spectrum, Pew Research notes the Census figures attest to comfortable times for some:
“For the vast majority of these Americans, the average income surplus — the amount a family’s income is above its poverty threshold — was at least $15,000. The share of families above poverty with a surplus at least that large has gradually ticked upward in recent years, from around 84% in 2010 to 87% in 2016.
“Married-couple families above the poverty line had the greatest income surplus, with an average of $97,249. The average income surplus was roughly half as large among families led by a woman with no husband ($46,026). Male-led households with no wife had an average surplus of $62,680.”
Again, a condemnation of wealth, the wealthy, or the like, this is not — but, as the U.N. seeks to do, any functioning society of vast fortune incapable of mending its scanty safety nets will naturally and perhaps deservedly fall under international scrutiny.
“The US has an extraordinary ability to naturalize and accept the extreme poverty that exists even in the context of such extreme wealth,” asserted David Grusky, director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Stanford, to the Guardian.
As part of a lecture last year, Grusky analyzed the ‘challenges’ faced by advocates in the era of Trump and world leaders of like mind, in which he closed by observing,
“These are extraordinarily dangerous times, unprecedentedly so in my lifetime. The response is really up to us.”