II. Absence of Basic Guarantee of Social and Economic Rights
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. The income distribution gap continues to widen, the medical and education cost continues to rise, the coverage of social security is shrinking and the lives of the people at the bottom are miserable.
The gap between rich and poor hit a 50-year high. In May 2018, Philip G. Alston, the United Nation's special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, published a report saying the United States had the highest rate of income inequality among Western countries. The Washington Times reported on its website on Sept 27, 2019 that the Gini Index of the United States has been rising steadily over the past five decades, citing figures from the US Census Bureau. The Gini Index grew to 0.485 in 2018, the highest level in 50 years. Citing a report from the New York-based financial firm JP Morgan Chase, the USA Today website reported on May 26, 2019 that the wealthiest 10 percent of US households control nearly 75 percent of household net worth. “The increasing consolidation of wealth in the hands of a few has gone beyond what many Americans deem to be justified or morally acceptable.” The basic trend of widening income gap in the United States is casting negative influences on the enjoyment and realization of human rights. The New York Times website reported on Sept 10, 2019 that the expanding gap between rich and poor is not only widening the gulf in incomes and wealth in America. It is helping the rich lead longer lives, while cutting short the lives of those who are struggling. The polarization between the rich and the poor in the United States is a stable long-term trend. The main reason for this trend is structural, which is determined by the political system of the United States and the capital interests represented by the US government. The US government not only lacks the political will to eliminate these structural causes, but also continuously introduces policies and measures to strengthen them. In the United States, “the persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power,” said Alston, the special rapporteur.
Inequality in income distribution is growing. USA Today reported on its website on April 17 and May 26, 2019 that income inequality is a growing problem in the United States, which could be contributed to factors including the stagnant middle-class wages and skyrocketing executive compensation. In some of the largest and most recognizable global companies, chief executives earn in less than an hour as much as their typical employee earns in an entire year. MyLogIQ, a data aggregator of public companies, released a report comparing total CEO compensation to median employee compensation for companies on the S&P 500 index, identifying 13 companies where the CEO makes at least 1,000 times the salary of their typical employee, while the biggest contrast was 3,566 times. Citing a Federal Reserve report, the Forbes website reported on May 29, 2019 that in 2018, the richest 10 percent held 70 percent of total household wealth, up from 60 percent in 1989. The share funneled to the top 1 percent jumped to 32 percent in 2018 from 23 percent in 1989. The bottom 50 percent saw essentially zero net gains in wealth over those 30 years, driving their already meager share of total wealth down to just 1 percent from 4 percent, who are literally getting crushed by the weight of rising inequalities.
People at the bottom are living in distress. In the United States, where the economy is already highly developed, many still face the threat of hunger. The United States remains the only developed country where millions go hungry, said an article published on Dec 16, 2019 on the website of the American Bar Association. According to the US Census Bureau, there are 39.7 million people living in poverty in the United States, including 12.8 million children in 2018. American Progress website reported on Feb 13, 2019 that more than 4 in 10 Americans are struggling to afford basics such as housing, food, and health care. The US Congress has refused to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for a decade, contributing to the worsening of poverty. The Economic Policy Institute said on Aug 27, 2019 that the real value (inflation-adjusted) of the federal minimum wage in 2019 has dropped 17 percent since 2009 and 31 percent since 1968. The Los Angeles Times reported on its website on May 7, 2019 that the US 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 homeless are in a miserable situation. USA Today reported on its website on Oct 7, 2019 that on a single night in the previous year, more than half a million Americans lacked permanent shelter, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Los Angeles Times reported online on July 2, 2019 that nearly 8 million Americans lost homes in the recession and its aftermath. For America’s middle class, the homeownership rate fell to about 60 percent in 2016 from roughly 70 percent in 2004, according to separate Federal Reserve data. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority on June 4, 2019 released the results of the 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, which showed 58,936 people in Los Angeles County experiencing homelessness, representing a 12 percent rise from the previous year. CNN reported on June 18, 2019 that the rise in homelessness in neighboring counties was equally bracing. Homelessness was up 43 percent in Orange County over the previous year, 28 percent in Ventura County and 50 percent in Kern County. The homeless did not receive sympathy or help. The BBC website reported on July 18, 2019 that government officials in West Palm Beach, Florida are trying to drive the homeless away from the city's waterfront space by playing on an endless loop of music through the night. Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, said, "Driving them out by blaring music is just inhumane and really shocking."
The public medical burden is overwhelming. The health gap between the United States and countries with the same level of development continues to widen, one reason is that the public medical burden is too heavy. CBS website said on July 1, 2019 that price hikes on prescription drugs are surging, with more than 3,400 drugs having boosted their prices in the first six months of 2019, an increase of 17 percent in the number of drug hikes from a year earlier, while the average price hike is 10.5 percent. On Nov 21, 2019, the American Broadcasting Company website cited a new report by the Commonwealth Fund to report that middle-class employees' premium and deductible contributions rose nearly 6 percent per year between 2008 and 2018, during which the share of such spending in household income also climbed to 11.5 percent from 7.8 percent. American Broadcasting Company reported on April 3, 2019 that Americans borrowed $88 billion to pay for health care in the past 12 months. According to a new national survey by Gallup and West Health, 15 million Americans deferred purchasing prescription drugs due to the costs of the medications. Beyond that, there were 65 million adults who chose not to seek treatment for a medical issue because of the cost, according to the survey.
The number of people without health insurance soars. The United States is one of the few developed countries that do not have universal health insurance, and a significant number of residents do not have health insurance, so they cannot get the health care they deserve when they fall ill. The website of the Los Angeles times on Jan 23, 2019 reported that at the end of 2018, 13.7 percent of US adults were uninsured, up from 10.9 percent at the end of 2016, according to a survey by Gallup. The new report also indicates that some 7 million US adults have likely lost or dropped coverage since 2016. More than 21 percent of adults under 35 now lack health insurance, according to the Gallup survey, up nearly 5 percentage points in just the last two years. A study by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families found the number of children in the United States without health insurance increased in 2018 for the first time in more than a decade.
Drug abuse is getting worse. American Progress reported online on Jan 10, 2019 that 630,000 people died of drug overdoses across the country from 1999 through 2016. In 2017, a staggering 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses — nearly 200 people every day. The Guardian website reported on Dec 18, 2019 that the popularity of drug has been booming in US campuses, as about one out of five high school students in the United States said they vaped marijuana in the previous year. On May 29, 2019, the Chicago Tribune reported on its website that according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, one in 16 high school seniors report daily use of marijuana.
Shrinking government financial aid leads to a surge in financial pressure on college students. APM (American Public Media) website reported on Feb 25, 2019 that states have cut their investment in higher education by $9 billion in the last decade, which had led to surging tuitions and burden of paying student loans. The Forbes reported on its website on Feb 25, 2019 that borrowers collectively owed more than $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the US in 2019, hitting a record high. Student loan debt was the second highest consumer debt category — behind only mortgage debt. The website of USA Today reported on June 10, 2019 that many college students were having difficulties finding a place to sleep. The report cited a survey to say that homelessness affected 18 percent of respondents attending two-year colleges, and 14 percent of those attending four-year institutions. The number who said they had experienced housing insecurity was 48 percent for those enrolled in four-year institutions. Still, of the nearly 399,000 community college students in California who experienced some period of homelessness in the previous year, 80,000 of them slept in their cars.