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U.N. official: wealth inequality, poverty destroying 'American dream'

By
Ray Downs
A homeless encampment under the Hollywood Freeway is dismantled in Los Angeles on August 23, 2015. According to a U.N. report released this month, there were 6,696 arrests of homeless persons between 2011 and 2016 in the city's Skid Row section. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
A homeless encampment under the Hollywood Freeway is dismantled in Los Angeles on August 23, 2015. According to a U.N. report released this month, there were 6,696 arrests of homeless persons between 2011 and 2016 in the city's Skid Row section. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 18 (UPI) -- After a two-week fact-finding mission throughout the United States, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said that the world's richest country is becoming the land of inequality.

"The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion, as the United States now has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries," Philip Alston, a human rights expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to look at poverty and human rights in countries around the world, said in a statement issued Friday.

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"American exceptionalism was a constant theme in my conversations," he added. "But instead of realizing its founders' admirable commitments, today's United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights."

In addition to wealth inequality, Alston said democracy and freedom in the United States paled in comparison to other countries.

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"There is no other developed country where so many voters are disenfranchised and where so few poor voters even care to go to the polls, and where ordinary voters ultimately have so little impact on political outcomes," Alston said. "There are no other developed countries in which so many citizens are behind bars."

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Alston's report singled out the "shockingly" high rate of childhood poverty in the United States. "In 2016, 18 percent of children -- some 13.3 million -- were living in poverty, with children comprising 32.6 percent of all people in poverty," he said.

Alston also found that childhood poverty was rampant across racial lines.

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"Contrary to the stereotypical assumptions, 31 percent of poor children are white, 24 percent are black, 36 percent are Hispanic and 1 percent are indigenous," he added.

Alston also criticized the United States' high level of homelessness, including in Los Angeles, which he said used criminalization to deal with its housing crisis.

"In Skid Row, LA., 6,696 arrests of homeless persons were reported to have been made between 2011 and 2016," Alston said. "Rather than responding to homeless persons as affronts to the senses and to their neighborhoods, citizens and local authorities should see in their presence a tragic indictment of community and government policies."

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