By Zhong Sheng
“Behind the overall prosperity of the United States is the cruel reality of the serious polarization between the rich and the poor in the country,” said a report on the human rights violations in the United States recently issued by China’s State Council Information Office.
Such polarization was also mirrored by a recent hearing held by the United States House of Representatives, during which representatives revealed that 40% of Americans can’t even afford a $400 unexpected expense; 33% of Americans put off medical treatment last year; and prohibitive expense of the COVID-19 test could discourage Americans from getting tested.
The United States has the highest rate of income inequality among Western countries. Its Gini Index has been rising steadily over the past five decades, hitting 0.485 in 2018, the highest level in 50 years, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. A JP Morgan Chase report said the wealthiest 10 percent of U.S. households control nearly 75 percent of household net worth, and the Federal Reserve reported that the share funneled to the top 1 percent jumped to 32 percent in 2018 from 23 percent in 1989, while the bottom 50 percent saw essentially zero net gains in wealth over those 30 years. U.S. economist Paul Krugman note that the rapid increase of income at the top to a large extent comes from the squeezing of the bottom.
As a result of the polarization caused by capital, “The increasing consolidation of wealth in the hands of a few has gone beyond what many Americans deem to be justified or morally acceptable.”
There were 39.7 million people living in poverty in the United States in 2018, and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said more than half a million Americans lacked permanent shelter. The United States remains the only developed country where millions go hungry.
“No child should have to worry where her next meal will come from or whether she will have a place to sleep each night in the wealthiest nation on Earth,” commented the Children’s Defense Fund in a report, adding that yet “about one in five children in America lived in poverty and faced these harsh realities every day.” Around 12.8 million U.S. children lived in poverty and a total of 3.5 million children under five were poor, with 1.6 million of those children living in extreme poverty.
However, these facts cannot stop Americans from labeling the country as a prototype of democratic country.
The bottom U.S. citizens are thrown into a “desperate valley”, and the U.S. government is in huge debt to its people regarding livelihood. The United States is one of the few developed countries that do not have universal health insurance. According to statistics released by the United States Census Bureau, about 27.5 million people in the country lacked health insurance for all of 2018. A Gallup report indicated that 15 million Americans have deferred purchasing prescription drugs due to cost, and there were 65 million adults who chose not to seek treatment for a medical issue because of the cost. Many Americans worry that the U.S. health network might collapse at the first blow of the COVID-19, and the vulnerability might further exacerbate the epidemic.
The polarization between the rich and the poor in the United States is a stable long-term trend, which is determined by the political system of the United States and the capital interests represented by the U.S. government. In the United States, “the persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power,” said Philip G. Alston, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
Such polarization, according to a British scholar, is caused by the Neoliberalism policy system adopted by the White House – something that protects the interests of the rich by privatization, marketization, and deregulation.
The U.S. government proposed to use a sham inflation rate to throw millions off poverty rolls. “This administration isn’t interested in knowing how many Americans are living in poverty, or how to help them. In the games it wants to play with numbers,” the Los Angeles Times reported on its website on May 7, 2019.
Why isn’t the U.S. working to eliminate the preoccupied problems that have long widened the gap between the rich and the poor if it really takes human rights as a serious issue? Never forget that when certain Americans are acting sanctimoniously and pointing fingers at other countries’ human rights conditions, U.S. citizens at the bottom of the society are facing a harder time due to the polarization.
The U.S. takes itself as a prototype, even with a large number of children in hunger, the homeless and patients with no access to adequate medical resources. However, this is not something that the world would follow.
No one should be left behind in poverty alleviation – I wonder if the U.S. human rights defenders can make such a promise and work for it, and facts show that such determination is absent for them.
(Zhong Sheng is a pen name often used by People’s Daily to express its views on foreign policy.)
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