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US Income Inequality Is So Bad That Now the UN Is Taking Action

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.

Earlier this month, 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, DC.

“Despite great wealth in the US, 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.”

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The UN has identified the US as having the second-highest rate of poverty among a group of the world’s richest countries, which helped prompt this month’s review.

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According to the US Census, less than 13% 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40 million people —fall below the official poverty line, but advocates for the poor say the federal poverty line is an outdated and unrealistic measurement of the true cost of living in the US.

“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.

Read More: The Trump Administration Wants to Cut Food Aid for Millions of Americans

In 2014, a team of Stanford University researchers reported that about 1.65 million Americans were living on less than $2 a day, which is near the World Bank’s extreme poverty line of $1.90 a day.

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 essential things has not meaningfully increased.

Source: US Department of Health and Human Services

In contrast, the average cost of living for a family of four in urban areas in every US state often triples the official poverty guideline, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Even in Texas, the state with lowest urban expenses, the cost of living was more than $70,000 a year for a family of four.

Research suggests that families may need to earn twice the federal poverty line to comfortably access basic needs like food, housing, and healthcare.

Read More: The US Homeless Population Just Rose for the First Time in 7 Years

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. Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced it would allow states to restrict food stamps for millions of Americans.

Americans are voicing their opposition to these cuts and their reactions seem to be having an effect on the federal government — at least in some cases.

After Americans protested a proposed cut to a program that houses homeless veterans, for example, the Trump administration decided to keep the program intact.

"I couldn't imagine my son being homeless especially after what he did for me and for our country,” said a father of a soldier who started a housing program for veterans in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “If I can't imagine my son being homeless, I can't imagine someone else's son being homeless."