Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has taken umbrage at a new United Nations report that examines entrenched poverty in the United States and calls the number of children living in poverty “shockingly high.” She called the analysis a “misleading and politically motivated document.”
A Washington Post article said that the report, written by U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston, says the United States tops the developed world with the highest rates of youth poverty, infant mortality, incarceration, income inequality and obesity. He also said that the Trump administration’s policies will deepen poverty.
In a letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Haley wrote:
It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America. In our country, the President, Members of Congress, Governors, Mayors, and City Council members actively engage on poverty issues every day. Compare that to the many countries around the world, whose governments knowingly abuse human rights and cause pain and suffering.
The results of the report are not out of line with a number of others (here’s one as an example) in recent years by different organizations in which the United States has turned up at or near the top on issues such as poverty rates and income inequality.
If you think countries should be judged by the way they take care of their children, here’s what the report says about this country, with footnotes removed:
Social protection for children
Appropriate cognitive and socio-emotional stimulation, adequate nutrition and health care, and stable and secure environments early in life are all essential ingredients in maximizing children’s potential and achieving optimal life outcomes. Empirical evidence suggests strong correlations between early childhood poverty and adverse life outcomes, particularly those related to achievement skills and cognitive development.
From this perspective, the shockingly high number of children living in poverty in the United States demands urgent attention. In 2016, 18 per cent of children (13.3 million) were living in poverty, and children comprised 32.6 per cent of all people in poverty. About 20 per cent of children live in relative income poverty, compared to the OECD average of 13 per cent. Contrary to stereotypical assumptions, 31 per cent of poor children are White, 24 per cent are Black, 36 per cent are Hispanic and 1 per cent are indigenous. This is consistent with the fact that the United States ranks 25th out of 29 industrialized nations in investing in early childhood education.
Poor children are also significantly affected by the country’s crises regarding affordable and adequate housing. On a given night in 2017, about 21 per cent (or 114,829) of homeless individuals were children. But this official figure may be a severe underestimate, since homeless children temporarily staying with friends, family or in motels are excluded from the point-in-time count. According to the Department of Education, the number of homeless students identified as experiencing homelessness at some point during the 2015/16 school year was 1,304,803.
The infant mortality rate, at 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, is almost 50 per cent higher than the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] average of 3.9. On a positive note, the United States has increased health insurance coverage for children through the expansion of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, bringing child health insurance rates to a historic high of 95 per cent. These achievements are, however, under threat, as discussed below. [See the full report below for more on this.]
In addition, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program kept 3.8 million children out of poverty in 2015, and in 2016, the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit lifted a further 4.7 million children out of poverty. By contrast, the reach and impact of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programme has been very limited. In 2016, only 23 per cent of families in poverty received cash assistance from that programme, and the figure is less than 10 per cent in a growing number of states.
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