New York Times, January 24, 2018: The U.S. can no longer hide From its deep poverty problem
You might think that the kind of extreme poverty that would concern a global organization like the United Nations has long vanished in this country. Yet the special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, recently made and reported on an investigative tour of the United States.
But there are 5.3 million Americans who are absolutely poor by global standards. This is a small number compared with the one for India, for example, but it is more than in Sierra Leone (3.2 million) or Nepal (2.5 million), about the same as in Senegal (5.3 million) and only one-third less than in Angola (7.4 million). Pakistan (12.7 million) has twice as many poor people as the United States, and Ethiopia about four times as many.
This evidence supports on-the-ground observation in the United States. Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer have documented the daily horrors of life for the several million people in the United States who actually do live on $2 a day, in both urban and rural America.
None of this means that we should close out “others” and look after only our own. International cooperation is vital to keeping our globe safe, commerce flowing and our planet habitable.
But it is time to stop thinking that only non-Americans are truly poor. Trade, migration and modern communications have given us networks of friends and associates in other countries. We owe them much, but the social contract with our fellow citizens at home brings unique rights and responsibilities that must sometimes take precedence, especially when they are as destitute as the world’s poorest people.