Though it is not alone in the problem of poverty and growing wealth inequality, the United States does stand alone among developed countries when it comes to the number of its citizens experiencing a substandard existence and its willingness to address income disparity.
The United Nation's special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights documented such issues as he traveled the U.S. late last year, reporting a somber state of affairs.
More than one in eight Americans live in poverty, nearly half of those live in what is considered “deep poverty” and most have no way of escaping their plight, said Philip Alston, U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
The U.N. official’s scathing outlook, which criticized U.S. politics, policies and attitudes, came after he recently toured the country from homeless encampments in California to small towns in the South and the hurricane-devastated island of Puerto Rico.
Aside from the obvious implications, such a degree of poverty and income disparity has the potential to throw a wrench in the spokes of democracy as the poor are less able to have their voices count, Alston said.
“Current trends in the United States are actually undermining democracy,” he added. “Poor people have no chance of having their voices heard, no chance of influencing public policy.”
The poor in the United States often are in prison, not allowed to vote due to criminal records or find it difficult to get to the polls, amid efforts to deter voter participation and voter registration that are key to democracy, he said.
Alston pointed to Trump administration and Republican goals of slashing social safety nets and putting up obstacles to voting as ways the system continues to work against the poor.
“The spiral downwards is fueled by public policy,” he said.
The full report details an array of aspects of poverty such as the roles of race and gender, voter disenfranchisement, high rates of incarceration and the plights of veterans, he said.