UN Human Rights Report: 'Contempt for the Poor has Intensified' in America

A homeless man sleeps curled up on the steps of a police station in Los Angeles' Skid Row area, home to the nation's largest concentration of homeless people, on Sept. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The United Nations’ special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights charged in a new report today that “contempt for the poor” is growing in America along with wealth inequality.


Philip Alston, an Australian law professor who has served in the role since 2014, went on a fact-finding mission for the UN Human Rights Council across the U.S. in the first two weeks of December.

Alston visited California (Los Angeles and San Francisco), Alabama (Lowndes County and Montgomery), Georgia (Atlanta), Puerto Rico (San Juan, Guayama and Salinas), West Virginia (Charleston) and Washington, D.C., for his study.

The United States’ “immense wealth and expertise stand in shocking contrast with the conditions in which vast numbers of its citizens live,” the report states. “About 40 million live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty, and 5.3 million live in Third World conditions of absolute poverty. It has the highest youth poverty rate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the highest infant mortality rates among comparable OECD States. Its citizens live shorter and sicker lives compared to those living in all other rich democracies, eradicable tropical diseases are increasingly prevalent, and it has the world’s highest incarceration rate, one of the lowest levels of voter registrations among OECD countries and the highest obesity levels in the developed world.”


Alston called those stats and policies behind them “cruel and inhuman.”

The UN report found that the $1.5 trillion in tax cuts in December 2017 “overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and worsened inequality.”

“For almost five decades the overall policy response has 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 health care into a privilege to be earned rather than a right of citizenship,” it added. “…The equality of opportunity, which is so prized in theory, is in practice a myth, especially for minorities and women, but also for many middle-class white workers.”

Alston said Trump administration policies seem “driven primarily by contempt, and sometimes even by hatred for the poor, along with a ‘winner takes all’ mentality… contempt for the poor has intensified under the Trump Administration.”

He noted that “several political appointees with whom I spoke were completely sold on the narrative that the poor are scammers living high on welfare,” but said they “failed to provide me with any evidence of massive fraud or of the supposedly ample job opportunities for those currently receiving benefits.”


“Democracy itself is under threat because of extreme inequality and the range of policies being pursued to make it worse,” Alston concluded.

The special rapporteur is scheduled to present his findings to the UN Human Rights Council on June 21.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality, and Opportunity, said in a statement that the report “ought to alarm Americans.”

“Republican efforts to undermine the programs that struggling families rely on are dangerous and must be reversed,” they said.


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