A United Nations report that portrays America as a land of rampant poverty and a vast, growing population of citizens without hope bases its condemnations on data from the final year of former President Barack Obama’s administration.
The report from the United Nations Human Rights Council claims the U.S. has 40 million people in poverty, with 18.5 million people in extreme poverty. However, those and other statistics quoted in the 20-page report come from 2016 Census Bureau figures, the year before President Donald Trump took office.
The report made for some misleading news coverage. A report by Reuters was headlined “America’s poor becoming more destitute under Trump: U.N. expert,” and the story appeared to blame the “Trump administration.”
Not until the ninth paragraph of a 14-paragraph story does Reuters note: “However, the data from the U.S. Census Bureau he cited covers only the period through 2016, and he gave no comparative figures for before and after Trump came into office in January 2017.”
The U.N. report itself mentions Trump obliquely.
“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 said, while attacking the tax cut passed in December as only helping the rich.
The report was the work of U.N. envoy Philip Alston, who toured the United States a year ago, according to Fortune. Alston, a professor at NYU Law originally from Australia, also chides the United States over issues such as voting rights, mass incarceration, health care, racism, and attitudes toward the poor.
One expert contacted by The Washington Post said the report, compiled before the U.S. economy hit records for low unemployment, is a little dated.
“We just don’t have data to really tell us what’s going on yet during the Trump administration, and my guess is, if it did, it would show poverty falling again because of the economy,” said H. Luke Shaefer, director of Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan.
Despite any lack of documented evidence, Alston told Britain’s The Guardian that Trump is making America worse instead of better.
“This is a systematic attack on America’s welfare program that is undermining the social safety net for those who can’t cope on their own. Once you start removing any sense of government commitment, you quickly move into cruelty,” Alston said.
Alston elaborated on his criticisms of Trump during an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
“There are two very prominent policy initiatives: the tax cuts, which make the wealthy wealthier, but also cut government budgets for the future, and the cutbacks on welfare benefits. The administration is now pushing ahead to reduce benefits, assuming that this is going to save a lot of money, which in turn will fund the tax cuts. So my sense is that these are two of the major priorities of the administration (and) when they’re put together, it does indeed seem to be a very deliberate attempt to punish the poor,” he said.
“I think the assumption is that poor people are, by definition, lazy and undeserving and the appropriate response of government is to punish them and to provide as little as possible. That’s what’s driving most of government policy on this issue,” he said.
In a December 2017 statement, Alston indicated the kind of action he wants governments to take.
“At the state level, the demonizing of taxation, as though it is inherently evil, means that legislatures effectively refuse to levy taxes even when there is a desperate need,” he said.
Writing on Fox News, Chuck DeVore, a vice president with the Texas Public Policy Foundation and former member of the California State Assembly, said the Trump touch is exactly what America’s poor need to leave poverty behind.
“President Trump and Republicans stress the importance of strengthening our economy and creating good jobs for American workers. They understand a paycheck is always better than a welfare check to help Americans work their way out of poverty, reinforce dignity and strengthen families,” he wrote.
“Fortunately for all of us, the Trump administration and congressional Republicans are succeeding in creating more jobs to bring prosperity to millions more Americans,” he added.
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