IV. Rich-Poor Divide Continues Widening

The rich-poor divide expanded in the United States, reporting an increasing number of homeless people. Drugs and banned substances were abused, and people in poverty lived in miserable conditions. “The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion,” said the independent human rights expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to look at poverty and human rights in countries around the world (www.theguardian.com, December 15, 2017).

The conditions remained precarious for people living in poverty. The Guardian news website reported on December 8, 2017 that 52.3 million Americans lived in “economically distressed communities,” representing 17 percent of the U.S. population (www.theguardian.com, December 8, 2017). The most recent official statistics from the US Census Bureau indicated that more than 40 million people were living in poverty. Almost half of those, 18.5 million, were living in deep poverty, with reported family income below half of the poverty threshold (www.ohchr.org, December 15, 2017). According to a 2017 report issued by Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, the overall poverty rate in the United States’ rural South stood at 20 percent, with blacks and black women in the rural South facing poverty rates of 33 percent and 37 percent, respectively. Native Americans in the rural West had the poverty rate as high as 32 percent (inequality.stanford.edu). After his two-week visit in the United States, Philip Alston, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights stated that the United States is one of the word’s richest and most powerful and technologically innovative countries; but neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology is being harnessed to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty. The conclusion he drew was that “the persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power” (www.theguardian.com, December 15, 2017).

Inequality deteriorated. The wealth gap continued to widen in the United States. According to the World Income Inequality Database, the United States has the highest Gini coefficient (measuring inequality) of all Western Countries. In the OECD, the United States ranks 35th out of 37 in terms of poverty and inequality ( www.theguardian.com, December 15, 2017). In a report showing the share of U.S. household wealth by income level, Deutsche Bank's chief international economist Torsten Slok said the top 0.1 percent of American households hold about the same amount of wealth as the bottom 90 percent (www.businessinsider.com, January 25, 2017). Boston Review’s website reported on Sept. 1, 2017 that while the income of those in the bottom 80 percent of America has grown only by about 25 percent in the last four decades, it has almost doubled for the top 20 percent. The United Nations monitor on poverty and human rights accused the U.S. leadership of attempting to turn the country into the “world champion of extreme inequality” (www.theguardian.com, December 15, 2017).

The life of the homeless was miserable. The Guardian’s website reported on December 6, 2017 that 553,742 people were homeless on a single night in the United States last year, with an increase of 4.1 percent in New York. In a homeless encampment in Los Angeles, approximately 1,800 homeless people shared just nine toilets located in stalls without doors at night (www.theguardian.com, June 30, 2017). Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted said millions of Americans were evicted each year as they struggled to make rent: these people were the true forgotten poor (www.theguardian.com, February 24, 2017).

The U.S. government failed in controlling drug and addictive medicine. The website of Medical Press reported on June 13, 2017 that 7.7 million Americans abused illicit drugs. On December 14, 2017, CNN said nearly 40 percent of 12th-graders, 28 percent of 10th-graders and 12.9 percent of eighth-graders had used some sort of illicit drugs in the past year. CBS News reported on June 6, 2017 on its website that between 2011 and 2015, nearly four billion opioid pills were prescribed in the state of Ohio alone. Overdoses are now the leading cause of death of Americans under the age of 50. According to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in December, 2017, in 2016, there were more than 63,600 drug overdose deaths in the United States. On December 12, 2017, ABC News reported that soaring use of opioids had forced tens of thousands of children to leave their homes across the United States, citing a 32 percent spike in drug-related foster care cases from 2012 to 2016.

The health care system was deeply flawed. Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, observed in a report that the “health gap” between the United States and its peer countries continued to grow and that Americans could expect to live shorter and sicker lives. Medical expenses and health insurance costs kept rising, with drug prices for chronic illnesses from asthma to cancer hitting record highs in the United States, The Guardian reported on its website on December 15, 2017 (www.theguardian.com, December 15, 2017). Results of a survey released by Pew Research Center on December 14, 2017 showed positive ratings for the government’s handling of ensuring access to health care had declined 20 percentage points since 2015 (www.people-press.org, December 14, 2017).