U.N. Expert: U.S. Has Failed to Wipe Out Poverty

The U.S. government has failed to eradicate the most abject forms of poverty in the United States, which disproportionately plague blacks and Hispanics, a U.N. human rights expert said Wednesday.

Arjun Sengupta, an Indian professor and U.N. expert on extreme poverty, said the United States could reduce the number of poor Americans by adopting a comprehensive national strategy to address poverty.

"Despite the economic wealth of the United States and the efforts of the government, the poverty rate remains high compared to other rich nations and there is no evidence that the incidence of poverty, and especially extreme poverty, is on the decrease," Sengupta said in a report presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, the global body's watchdog.

He added: "Government programs and policies have not effectively remedied the vulnerable situation of those groups most at risk of extreme poverty, notably African-Americans, Hispanics, immigrants" and single mothers.

Sengupta compiled his report after visiting the United States last year, where he met with government representatives and campaign groups in New York; Immokalee, Fla.,; New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La.; Jackson, Miss., and the Delta region; the Appalachia region in Kentucky; and Washington, D.C.

American delegate Steven Hill told the 47-nation council — of which the U.S. is only an observer — that eliminating poverty is "a major policy priority of the United States."

While Hill praised Sengupta for noting more than 80 federal programs aimed at eradicating poverty, he said the expert should have collected more information before reaching conclusions.

"We hope that if the special rapporteur visits the United States again, he would take advantage of the broad array of information available," he said.

Hill also added one question for Sengupta: "What are his future plans to address this problem in other countries?"

Sengupta was appointed by the now defunct U.N. Human Rights Commission in 1998. His mandate was since extended.

He said he chose to investigate conditions in the United States because "it is no doubt morally committed to eliminating extreme poverty and has all the resources in the world to be able to do so."

Nevertheless, Sengupta said the U.S. allows extreme poverty to affect 12 to 14 percent of its population.

He urged authorities in the U.S. to adopt laws entitling the poor to programs that are needed to lift them out of poverty. He said the poor should be able to seek redress in courts if they are denied assistance and called on the federal government to create a fund with the sole purpose of abolishing conditions of extreme poverty.