In America, the richest nation in the world when measured by raw GDP, children are getting sick from living by open pools of raw sewage. This was one of many shocking findings by the United Nations late last year, following a two-week investigation into extreme poverty in the US.
The UN report was issued last December by a team of investigators who visited California, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico, West Virginia and Washington DC.
“The United States is one of the world’s richest, 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,”wrote Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
He continued, “I met with many people barely surviving on Skid Row in Los Angeles, I witnessed a San Francisco police officer telling a group of homeless people to move on but having no answer when asked where they could move to, I heard how thousands of poor people get minor infraction notices which seem to be intentionally designed to quickly explode into unpayable debt, incarceration, and the replenishment of municipal coffers. I saw sewage-filled yards in states where governments don’t consider sanitation facilities to be their responsibility, I saw people who had lost all of their teeth because adult dental care is not covered by the vast majority of programs available to the very poor, I heard about soaring death rates and family and community destruction wrought by opioids, and I met with people in Puerto Rico living next to a mountain of completely unprotected coal ash which rains down upon them, bringing illness, disability and death.”
The sewage-filled yards were found in poor areas like Lowndes County, Alabama, where many people cannot afford to install septic tanks, causing sewage to pool by their homes. This untreated waste creates the potential for all kinds of diseases. In Lowndes, it has led to the proliferation of hookworm, a parasitic disease of the intestines commonly found in the world’s poorest developing countries.
The discovery of third world levels of poverty and disease in the richest and most powerful country in the world, shocking as it may be, is only part of the story. The UN findings are in keeping with the downward spiral of America.
Spending time in Western Europe, as I have done the last several months, provides some serious perspective on America’s decline. In most European countries, like Germany for example, public transportation works efficiently and there is a social safety net. While homelessness is a problem, it’s nowhere near as rampant as in the US and usually seems to be associated with addiction. People in Europe are generally much healthier and happier, housing and food and higher education are affordable and people don’t spend all their time working – they are able to take vacations and enjoy life in a way the vast majority of Americans are not. Europeans are typically entitled to lengthy paid maternity leave, whereas in the US working class women are forced to return to work in as little as two weeks.
Meanwhile, New York’s Subway system is decaying due to disinvestment and corruption. Last summer a train stalled, leaving passengers in the dark with no air conditioning for an hour. “As the heat of packed-together bodies fogged the windows, passengers beat on the walls and clawed at the doors in a scene from a real-life horror story,”reported the New York Times. In Washington DC, the nation’s capital, the Metro is always late and totally unreliable, with train fires becoming a regular occurrence while Amtrak trains experience routine derailments. These are just some examples of infrastructure decay. The list goes on: bridges are crumbling, schools are shuttered. In Baltimore dozens of schools had no heat during record freezing temperatures this winter. The only thing America’s leadership seems capable of investing in is prisons and war.
In America, the old devour the young. Young Americans are struggling under the weight of $1.4 trillion in student loan debt. But don’t let that confuse you about the state of America’s elderly. They too aren’t taken care of. In many European countries people are entitled to pensions and they can retire comfortably. In the US some have to work until they die as Social Security isn’t enough to live on and Medicare doesn’t quite cover all of their medical needs. As for healthcare, as many as 45,000 people a year die because they cannot access it.
And then there is the issue of water. There are over 3,000 counties across America whose water supplies have lead levels higher than in Flint, Michigan, and nothing substantial is being done to address the problem.
All this is taking place in a nation where inequality continues to climb. There are counties a few miles apart from one another where the life expectancy drops by 20 years.
Researchers say the life expectancy gap, as high as 20.1 years between rich and poor counties, resembles the gap seen between low-income countries versus rich countries. In other words, there are pockets of the US that have the characteristics of third world countries. It seems that the US in many ways, after having destroyed other parts of the world, has turned inward on itself, sacrificing its most vulnerable citizens at the altar of capitalism.
Bernie Sanders made an issue of this during his presidential bid, often noting in his stump speeches the dramatic difference in lifespan in McDowell County, West Virginia, where men live to about 64, and six hours away in Fairfax, Virginia, where the average lifespan shoots up to 82.
Perhaps none of this should come as a shock in a country where the rich are getting richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class is collapsing, with most Americans living one emergency away from financial ruin.
All empires fall after all. And Donald Trump is accelerating the process. His Republican tax plan was a massive giveaway to the rich. It even included a special tax cut for private jet owners. The US might have the highest child poverty and infant mortality rates in the developed world, but the political class believe private jet owners deserve a break!
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.