UN expert warns of extensive, deepening poverty in the US

GENEVA • Poverty in the United States is extensive and deepening under the Trump administration, whose policies seem aimed at removing the safety net from millions of poor people while rewarding the rich, a UN human rights investigator has found.

Mr Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty, called on US authorities to provide solid social protection and address underlying problems, rather than "punishing and imprisoning the poor".

In a report, Mr Alston said that as welfare benefits and access to health insurance were being slashed, President Donald Trump's tax reform awarded "financial windfalls" to the mega-rich and large companies, further increasing inequality.

Extreme poverty in the US, however, is not new. Mr Alston said US policies since President Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty in the 1960s have been "neglectful at best".

"But the policies pursued over the past year seem deliberately designed to remove basic protections from the poorest, punish those who are not in employment and make even basic healthcare into a privilege to be earned rather than a right of citizenship," Mr Alston said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A US official in Geneva, asked for comment, told Reuters: "The Trump administration has made it a priority to provide economic opportunity for all Americans."

  • 41m

  • Number of people in the United States living in poverty.

  • 18.5m

    Number of people living in extreme poverty.

Almost 41 million people or 12.7 per cent live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty, and children account for one in three poor, Mr Alston said.

The United States has the highest youth poverty rate among industrialised countries, he added.

However, the data from the US Census Bureau he cited covers only the period through 2016, and he gave no comparative figures for before and after Mr Donald Trump came into office in January last year.

Mr Alston, a veteran UN rights expert and New York University law lecturer, will present his report to the United Nations Human Rights Council later this month.

It is based on a mission by the Australian in December to several US states, including rural Alabama, a slum in downtown Los Angeles, and the US territory of Puerto Rico.

Mr Alston said that a tax overhaul that passed the Republican-controlled US Congress in December will ensure that the US remains the most unequal society in the developed world.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2018, with the headline 'UN expert warns of extensive, deepening poverty in the US'. Print Edition | Subscribe