By DAVID BRAND
Poor Americans are getting sicker, dying younger, and even living on the streets more often as extreme poverty threatens the lives of millions in the world’s wealthiest country.
Now the United Nations is taking action. Last year, the UN sent a team led by Philip Alston, a human rights expert and law professor at New York University, to investigate poverty in California, West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C.
“Despite great wealth in the U.S., there also exists great poverty and inequality,” Alston said in a statement. “The idea of human rights is that people have basic dignities [and] that is the role of the government to ensure that no one falls below a decent level.”
The UN has identified the U.S. as having the second-highest rate of poverty among a group of the world’s richest countries.
According to the U.S. Census, less than 13 percent of Americans — about 40 million people — fall below the official poverty line, but advocates for the poor say the federal poverty line is an outdated and unrealistic measurement of the true cost of living in the U.S.
“I don’t think anyone gets any sense of economic security from living at that line,” Economist Elise Gould told The Huffington Post. “It’s a measure of absolute deprivation.”
Gould co-authored a report analyzing poverty in 2013 when the federal poverty level was little more than $23,000 — one quarter of the cost of living for a family of four in New York City.
The current poverty line is just over $12,000 for a single adult and $24,600 for family of four. It is used to measure eligibility for various programs like Medicaid health insurance and food stamps. If a person surpasses this line they no longer qualify for certain programs, even if their ability to afford essentials has not meaningfully increased.
Research suggests that families may need to earn twice the federal poverty line to comfortably access basic needs like food, housing, and health care.
That means millions of Americans are easily priced out of many areas of the country unless they receive government support for housing, food and health care. But many of these benefits are getting harder to access.
David Brand is a member of the Global Citizen editorial staff. A longer version of this article is at www. globalcitizen.org.