UNITED NATIONS - Despite enormous wealth and various federal and social
welfare schemes at work, the United States is failing to help millions of its
people trying to get out of poverty, according to an independent United Nations
"Resource constraints have limited the reach of the assistance programs
and social discrimination has aggravated the problems in many situations resulting
in poverty clearly seen as a violation of human rights," Dr. Arjun Sengupta
declared after visiting the United States last month.
"If the United States government designed and implemented the policies
according to human rights standards much of the problem of poverty could be
resolved," he added.
Dr. Sengupta, an expert on human rights and extreme poverty of the world body's
Commission on Human Rights, said he chose to visit the United States because
he wanted to illustrate that extreme poverty was not only prevalent in developing
countries, but a phenomenon that is found in most nations in the world, according
to U.N. officials.
"The case of the United States was particularly interesting as it presented
an apparent paradox: as the wealthiest country on Earth, with higher per capita
income levels than any other country, the United States has also had one of
the highest incidences of poverty among the rich industrialized nations,"
Dr. Sengupta said.
The official statistics released in his report to the U.N. show that over 12
percent of the United States population--or about 37 million people--lived in
poverty in 2004, with nearly 16 percent--or about 46 million--having no health
The report indicates that more than 38 million people, including 14 million
children, are threatened by lack of food.
Dr. Sengupta's report also shows that ethnic minorities are suffering more
from extreme poverty than white Americans. Compared to one in ten Whites, nearly
one in four Blacks and more than one out of every five Latinos are extremely
poor in the United States.
Moreover, despite the overall U.S. economic recovery, the report says the incidence
of poverty, including food insecurity and homelessness, has been on the rise
over the past years.
During his two-week fact-finding mission, Dr. Sengupta visited neighborhoods
in New York, Florida, Washington, D.C., and in many other cities, including
New Orleans, where he met with a number of civil society groups and constitutional
U.N. officials say the purpose of the visit was to "consider and learn
from experiences" of the United States in addressing the different aspects
of extreme poverty: income poverty, human development poverty, and social exclusion.
The independent expert noted that a multitude of federal and state benefit
systems and means-tested programs have been designed to provide assistance to
poor people, but noted that there were "significant gaps" in the current
The report identifies high costs of healthcare, inadequate access to quality
education and vocational training, low wages, limited protection of tenants,
and lack of low-cost housing as major factors that pose "serious obstacles"
to people struggling to get out of poverty.
"Poverty is not only deprivation of economic or material resources, but
a violation of human rights too," according to the Geneva-based U.N. Commission
on Human Rights.
"No social phenomenon is as comprehensive in its assault on human rights
as poverty," it says. "Poverty erodes or nullifies economic and social
rights such as the right to health, adequate housing, food, safe water, and
the right to education."
In addition to Dr. Sengupta's findings, a similar report is also under circulation
at the world body, which point to human rights abuses in the United States.
In response to the U.S. State Department's annual documentation of human rights
violations worldwide, the Chinese government released its own report on the
subject with scathing criticism of Washington's economic and social policies.
"Black people have not only fewer job opportunities, but also earn less
than white people," says the Chinese report, "The Human Rights Record
of the United States in 2004," noting that some fifty years after the landmark
Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, "white children and
black children in the United States still lead largely separate lives."
"About a third [of southern Black students] attend schools that are at
least 90 percent minority," the report points out, citing a Washington
"The Declaration of Independence said all men are created equal, so the
gap between black and white people is simply an insult to the founding essence
of the United States," the report said.