[Paleopsych] Independent: Parts of the United States are as poor as the Third World
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Mon Sep 19 01:14:51 UTC 2005
Parts of the United States are as poor as the Third World
Parts of the United States are as poor as the Third World, according
to a shocking United Nations report on global inequality.
Claims that the New Orleans floods have laid bare a growing racial
and economic divide in the US have, until now, been rejected by the
American political establishment as emotional rhetoric. But
yesterday's UN report provides statistical proof that for many -
well beyond those affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -
the great American Dream is an ongoing nightmare.
The document constitutes a stinging attack on US policies at home
and abroad in a fightback against moves by Washington to undermine
next week's UN 60th anniversary conference which will be the biggest
gathering of world leaders in history.
The annual Human Development Report normally concerns itself with
the Third World, but the 2005 edition scrutinises inequalities in
health provision inside the US as part of a survey of how inequality
worldwide is retarding the eradication of poverty.
It reveals that the infant mortality rate has been rising in the US
for the past five years - and is now the same as Malaysia. America's
black children are twice as likely as whites to die before their
The report is bound to incense the Bush administration as it
provides ammunition for critics who have claimed that the fiasco
following Hurricane Katrina shows that Washington does not care
about poor black Americans. But the 370-page document is critical of
American policies towards poverty abroad as well as at home. And, in
unusually outspoken language, it accuses the US of having "an
overdeveloped military strategy and an under-developed strategy for
"There is an urgent need to develop a collective security framework
that goes beyond military responses to terrorism," it continues. "
Poverty and social breakdown are core components of the global
The document, which was written by Kevin Watkins, the former head of
research at Oxfam, will be seen as round two in the battle between
the UN and the US, which regards the world body as an unnecessary
constraint on its strategic interests and actions.
Last month John Bolton, the new US ambassador to the UN, submitted
750 amendments to the draft declaration for next week's summit to
strengthen the UN and review progress towards its Millennium
Development Goals to halve world poverty by 2015.
The report launched yesterday is a clear challenge to Washington.
The Bush administration wants to replace multilateral solutions to
international problems with a world order in which the US does as it
likes on a bilateral basis.
"This is the UN coming out all guns firing," said one UN
insider. "It means that, even if we have a lame duck secretary
general after the Volcker report (on the oil-for-food scandal), the
rest of the organisation is not going to accept the US bilateralist
The clash on world poverty centres on the US policy of promoting
growth and trade liberalisation on the assumption that this will
trickle down to the poor. But this will not stop children dying, the
UN says. Growth alone will not reduce poverty so long as the poor
are denied full access to health, education and other social
provision. Among the world's poor, infant mortality is falling at
less than half of the world average. To tackle that means tackling
inequality - a message towards which John Bolton and his fellow US
neocons are deeply hostile.
India and China, the UN says, have been very successful in wealth
creation but have not enabled the poor to share in the process. A
rapid decline in child mortality has therefore not materialised.
Indeed, when it comes to reducing infant deaths, India has now been
overtaken by Bangladesh, which is only growing a third as fast.
Poverty could be halved in just 17 years in Kenya if the poorest
people were enabled to double the amount of economic growth they can
achieve at present.
Inequality within countries is as stark as the gaps between
countries, the UN says. Poverty is not the only issue here. The
death rate for girls in India is now 50 per cent higher than for
boys. Gender bias means girls are not given the same food as boys
and are not taken to clinics as often when they are ill. Foetal
scanning has also reduced the number of girls born.
The only way to eradicate poverty, it says, is to target
inequalities. Unless that is done the Millennium Development Goals
will never be met. And 41 million children will die unnecessarily
over the next 10 years.
Decline in health care
Child mortality is on the rise in the United States
For half a century the US has seen a sustained decline in the number
of children who die before their fifth birthday. But since 2000 this
trend has been reversed.
Although the US leads the world in healthcare spending - per head of
population it spends twice what other rich OECD nations spend on
average, 13 per cent of its national income - this high level goes
disproportionately on the care of white Americans. It has not been
targeted to eradicate large disparities in infant death rates based
on race, wealth and state of residence.
The infant mortality rate in the US is now the same as in Malaysia
High levels of spending on personal health care reflect America's
cutting-edge medical technology and treatment. But the paradox at
the heart of the US health system is that, because of inequalities
in health financing, countries that spend substantially less than
the US have, on average, a healthier population. A baby boy from one
of the top 5 per cent richest families in America will live 25 per
cent longer than a boy born in the bottom 5 per cent and the infant
mortality rate in the US is the same as Malaysia, which has a
quarter of America's income.
Blacks in Washington DC have a higher infant death rate than people
in the Indian state of Kerala
The health of US citizens is influenced by differences in insurance,
income, language and education. Black mothers are twice as likely as
white mothers to give birth to a low birthweight baby. And their
children are more likely to become ill.
Throughout the US black children are twice as likely to die before
their first birthday.
Hispanic Americans are more than twice as likely as white Americans
to have no health cover
The US is the only wealthy country with no universal health
insurance system. Its mix of employer-based private insurance and
public coverage does not reach all Americans. More than one in six
people of working age lack insurance. One in three families living
below the poverty line are uninsured. Just 13 per cent of white
Americans are uninsured, compared with 21 per cent of blacks and 34
per cent of Hispanic Americans. Being born into an uninsured
household increases the probability of death before the age of one
by about 50 per cent.
More than a third of the uninsured say that they went without
medical care last year because of cost
Uninsured Americans are less likely to have regular outpatient care,
so they are more likely to be admitted to hospital for avoidable
More than 40 per cent of the uninsured do not have a regular place
to receive medical treatment. More than a third say that they or
someone in their family went without needed medical care, including
prescription drugs, in the past year because they lacked the money
If the gap in health care between black and white Americans was
eliminated it would save nearly 85,000 lives a year. Technological
improvements in medicine save about 20,000 lives a year.
Child poverty rates in the United States are now more than 20 per
Child poverty is a particularly sensitive indicator for income
poverty in rich countries. It is defined as living in a family with
an income below 50 per cent of the national average.
The US - with Mexico - has the dubious distinction of seeing its
child poverty rates increase to more than 20 per cent. In the UK -
which at the end of the 1990s had one of the highest child poverty
rates in Europe - the rise in child poverty, by contrast, has been
reversed through increases in tax credits and benefits.
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