A United Nations expert investigating poverty in the United States says the state of Alabama has the worst poverty in the developed world.
“I think it’s very uncommon in the First World."
This is not a sight that one normally sees. I’d have to say that I haven’t seen this,” Philip Alston, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said, according to a report in Newsweek magazine. The UN rapporteur traveled to areas where residents have fallen ill with hookworm, a disease usually seen only in extremely poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, the report said. These social conditions tend to affect minorities more frequently, with black, Hispanic and Native American children two to three times more likely to live in poverty than their white counterparts, it said.
"There are pretty extreme levels of poverty in the United States given the wealth of the country and that does have significant human rights implications,” he said. In Alabama, nine out of 1,000 infants died before celebrating their first birthday in 2016. That's a higher infant mortality rate than Sri Lanka, Ukraine and many other developing countries. Alabama's relatively high infant mortality rate—second only to Mississippi in the United States—also diverges along racial lines: Black babies in Alabama died at three times the rate of white babies in 2015. The US's overall 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births trails behind 55 other nations and a similar infant mortality rate as Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Official government numbers underestimate the problems of poverty in America.
Officially, the 2017 federal poverty level is $12,060 for one individual and $24,600 for a family of four. In 2016, the U.S. poverty rate was 12.7% with about 41 million Americans including 14 million children living in poverty.
The child poverty rate of 19% is consistent with federal estimates of child hunger – about one in five children lack consistent access to sufficient and healthy food. For minority children, about one in three African American, Native American and Hispanic American children live in poverty often without access to sufficient food. Globally, the USA rank 1st in wealth and 18th in the number of children living in poverty.
Many dispute the government’s interpretation of poverty levels and rates by questioning whether rules created in the 1960s take into account basic living expenses in 2017. Many believe that poverty in America is about twice the official federal numbers with nearly 100 million Americans living in or near poverty.
Research from organizations such as the National Center for Children in Poverty and the Economic Policy Institute calculated the sum of food, housing, transportation, health care, child care, taxes and other expenses for a modest standard of living and concluded that poverty in America touches nearly 50% of the population. These analyses suggest that doubling the official formula and then building programs for both the 100% and 200% federal poverty levels would yield better outcomes.
Some programs already trend in this direction. For example, children living in households at 185% or less of the federal poverty level are eligible for reduced lunch.
Related data support this broader view:
The latest research shows that no one working for the minimum wage of $7.25 can rent a basic two-bedroom apartment in any of our United States.
6% of public school students participate in free or reduced price lunch.
45% percent of homeless people work at least part-time.
40% of all workers are temporary, on-call, or contractors with no benefits; research suggests all the job growth in the last ten years is for such “alternative work arrangements” – where illness or a broken-down car may mean losing a job and even a home.
78% percent of working Americans live paycheck to paycheck.
National numbers only tell part of the story – states and counties show vastly different ranges of children and families in poverty.