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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 12/20/17

U.N. Special Rapporteur Says Tax Bill Will Make the U.S. "World Champion of Extreme Inequality"

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As Congress prepares to vote on the controversial tax bill, the United Nations has issued a scathing report on poverty in the United States that found the Trump administration and Republicans are turning the U.S. into the "world champion of extreme inequality." Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, announced his findings after conducting a two-week fact-finding mission across the country, including visits to California, Alabama, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Alston also warned that the Republican tax bill will transfer vast amounts of wealth to the richest earners while making life harder for the 41 million Americans living in poverty. Among other startling findings in Alston's report, the U.S. ranks 36th in the world in terms of access to water and sanitation. We speak with Philip Alston, who is also a professor at NYULaw School.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonza'lez.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to a scathing new report on poverty in the United States that found the Trump administration and Republicans are turning the U.S. into the, quote, "world champion of extreme inequality." Philip Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, announced his findings after conducting a two-week fact-finding mission across the country, including visits to California, Alabama, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Alston also warned the Republican tax bill would transfer vast amounts of wealth to the richest earners while making life harder for the 41 million Americans living in poverty.

AMY GOODMAN: Among other startling findings in Alston's report, the U.S. ranks 36th in the world in terms of access to water and sanitation. Alston discussed the report's findings Friday with independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who focused on economic inequality during his presidential campaign.

Well, for more, Philip Alston joins us here in our New York studio. He's the United Nations rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. He is also a professor at NYU Law School, New York University.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Alston. So you just came back from this tour. Congress is poised to vote on this tax bill. Your assessment and why you're weighing in as the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty?

PHILIP ALSTON: Well, my job is to try to highlight the extent to which people -- to which the civil rights of people who are living in extreme poverty are jeopardized by government policies. What I see in the United States now is not just a tax reform bill, but a very clear indication by government officials with whom I met, by the Treasury, in their analysis, that this is going to be funded in part by cuts to welfare, to Medicare, Medicaid. And so what you've got is a huge effort to enrich the richest and to impoverish the poorest. That is going to have very dramatic consequences.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And from what you saw, how did race and poverty overlap on this issue?

PHILIP ALSTON: There's a very complex relationship, actually, between race and poverty. First, it is true that if you are African-American, if you're Hispanic, your situation, in terms of poverty, is often going to be pretty bad. But there's also a racialized discourse, where if you speak to policymakers, they will say, "Yes, we've got to cut back on welfare, because those black families out there are really ripping off the system." And so what they do is to try to get some sort of race warfare going almost, that white voters think, "Yeah, I'm not going to be ripped off by the blacks and the Hispanics." But, of course, the terrible thing is that the cuts are actually nondiscriminatory. In other words, they impact the poor whites every bit as much as the poor people of color. So, the race dimension is deeply problematic.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Benita Garner, a mother living in poverty, who's participating in a program through a nonprofit called LIFT. She landed seasonal work with UPS, but worries what will happen when the job ends.

BENITA GARNER: It's scary. It's stuff that you don't really think about, but it's scary. It's just that I know it can happen. I'm like really not looking forward to the end of the month, because I'm like, ahh, you know, right now you're getting money, but then it's like it's going to shut down again. So, you always have to constantly think every day, "What's my next move?"

AMY GOODMAN: She spoke at your launch of your report. Talk about why Benita is so important.

PHILIP ALSTON: Well, because there are millions of people in exactly that position. One of the things that the current administration is pushing is that we need to get people off welfare and into work. First of all, it's not clear that there are the jobs for people with those sort of skills. But secondly, those who do get the jobs that are available are going to end up in Benita's situation. I spoke with a lot of Walmart employees who are working full-time, but who are still eligible for and totally dependent upon food stamps. So, working 35 hours a week at Walmart is not enough to make a living out of. And there's a much bigger problem in the U.S., of course: The precariousness of employment, as we move to the gig economy and so on, means that there are going to be ever more people in Benita's situation, where, yes, you get a job; yes, the benefits are cut; but you can't survive.

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