The U.K. Guardian newspaper had an alarming story Friday about how poverty in the U.S. is reaching "dangerous levels" because of President Trump's "cruel" policies.
The same day Reuters had a story headlined "America's Poor Becoming More Destitute under Trump: U.N. Expert."
Both stories relied on the same "expert:" U.N. special rapporteur Phillip Alston. It sounds dire. Here is how the Guardian characterized Mrs. Alston's findings:
Donald Trump is deliberately forcing millions of Americans into financial ruin, cruelly depriving them of food and other basic protections while lavishing vast riches on the super-wealthy, the United Nations monitor on poverty has warned.
. . .
Millions of Americans already struggling to make ends meet faced “ruination”, he warned. “If food stamps and access to Medicaid are removed, and housing subsidies cut, then the effect on people living on the margins will be drastic.”
Asked to define “ruination”, Alston said: “Severe deprivation of food and almost no access to healthcare.”
But if you actually read the stories, you realize that Alston didn't measure poverty; what he measured is a pullback from welfare programs that Alston and like-minded people favor.
The U.N. report itself is not so much about poverty as about being outraged by a world view different from Alston's.
In the report, the tax cuts, which have likely contributed to the recent decline in unemployment, are relentlessly criticized. Food stamp work requirements, which many find a way to promote a work ethic and encourage people who are gaming to system not to, also come in for censure.
Far from dealing with poverty, the report complains about various U.N. documents that the U.S. has refused to sign. There is even a section on gerrymandering in U.S. electoral politics!
Here is a snippet from the report that shows its worldview:
In many cities, homeless persons are effectively criminalized for the situation in which they find themselves. Sleeping rough, sitting in public places, panhandling, public urination and myriad other offences have been devised to attack the “blight" of homelessness. The criminalization of homeless individuals in cities that provide almost zero public toilets seems particularly callous. In June 2017, it was reported that the approximately 1,800 homeless individuals on Skid Row in Los Angeles had access to only nine public toilets.
Los Angeles failed to meet even the minimum standards the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees sets for refugee camps in the Syrian Arab Republic and other emergency situations.
First off, nobody is being penalized for the situation in which they find themselves. If people are facing restrictions, they are not based on the person's situation but on actions. Such as public urination. And panhandling.
Asking people not to urinate in public is not cruelty to the poor. To the contrary, poor people don't like public urination any more than rich people.
Love the Syrian refugee camp dig.
And, just a thought experiment: how many people in Syrian refugee camps would give their eye teeth to be in Los Angeles instead?
Alston goes on to say that in L. A.'s Skid Row 14,000 homeless people were arrested in 2014. To make this mean anything at all, we must ask: What were they doing? If it was urinating in public, arrest sounds like a good idea. If Alston can supply information suggesting that any of these people were arrested just to harrass them or because cops have it in for poor people, I am with him. But he doesn't provide that kind of information.
This is not a report on poverty in the U.S.. It is just an ideological screed. It is unfortunate that reporters didn't present this report for what it is: a mishmash of ideology.
And it doesn't sound as if Mr. Alson is the most objective guy around:
Think of it as payback time. As the UN special rapporteur himself put it: “Washington is very keen for me to point out the poverty and human rights failings in other countries. This time I’m in the US.”
We do have poor people in the U.S. We need to find the best ways to get as many as possible out of poverty.
This hysterical report doesn't help.