Extreme Poverty in America

The United States, one of the world’s richest nations and the “land of opportunity”, is fast becoming a champion of inequality, according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, an Australian academic and law professor at New York University.  Furthermore, extreme poverty, Alston warned, will be made far worse by policies being proposed by the Trump Administration.

The United Nations monitor made these statements in a devastating report following a 15-day fact-finding mission to California, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C. and West Virginia where he spoke to low-income families as well as governmental officials. He will produce a final report next May and that in turn will go before the UN human rights council.

poverty in us2“I have seen and heard a lot over the past two weeks. I met with many people barely surviving on Skid Row in Los Angeles, I witnessed a San Francisco police officer telling a group of homeless people to move on but having no answer when asked where they could move to, I heard how thousands of poor people get minor infraction notices which seem to be intentionally designed to quickly explode into unpayable debt, incarceration, and the replenishment of municipal coffers, I saw sewage-filled yards in states where governments don’t consider sanitation facilities to be their responsibility, I saw people who had lost all of their teeth because adult dental care is not covered by the vast majority of programs available to the very poor, I heard about soaring death rates and family and community destruction wrought by opioids, and I met with people in Puerto Rico living next to a mountain of completely unprotected coal ash which rains down upon them, bringing illness, disability and death.”

“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,” said the independent human rights expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to look at poverty and human rights in countries around the world.

“American exceptionalism was a constant theme in my conversations.  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.

“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. There are no other developed countries in which so many citizens are behind bars.”

The Special Rapporteur continued: “I have been struck by the extent to which caricatured narratives about the purported innate differences between rich and poor have been sold to the electorate by some politicians and media, and have been allowed to define the debate. The rich are industrious, entrepreneurial, patriotic and the drivers of economic success. The poor are wasters, losers and scammers.

“Despite the fact that this is contradicted by the facts, some of the politicians and political appointees with whom I spoke were completely sold on the narrative of such scammers sitting on comfortable sofas, watching colour TVs, while surfing on their smartphones, all paid for by welfare.

“I wonder how many of these politicians have ever visited poor areas, let alone spoken to those who dwell there.”

The most recent official statistics from the US Census Bureau in September 2017 indicated that more than 40 million people – more than one in eight Americans – were living in poverty. Almost half of those, 18.5 million, were living in deep poverty, with reported family income below half of the poverty threshold.

Mr. Alston said the poor were assumed to come from ethnic minority groups, but noted that in reality there were eight million more white people than African-Americans living in poverty. “The face of poverty in America is not only black or Hispanic, but also white, Asian and many other colours,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur expressed the fear that proposed changes in the direction of US tax and welfare policies could have devastating consequences for the poorest 20 percent of Americans.

“The proposed tax reform package stakes out America’s bid to become the most unequal society in the world,” Mr. Alston said. “It will greatly increase the already high levels of wealth and income inequality between the richest one percent and the poorest 50 percent of Americans.

“The dramatic cuts in welfare, foreshadowed by President Trump and Speaker Ryan, and already beginning to be implemented by the administration, will essentially shred crucial dimensions of a safety net that is already full of holes.”

“Several administration officials told me that as far as welfare reform is concerned, states are, in Justice Louis D. Brandeis’ famous phrase, ‘laboratories of innovation’. Recent proposals to drug-test welfare recipients in Wisconsin and West Virginia, along with Mississippi’s recent purge of its welfare rolls, raise concerns that the administration would happily look the other way while states conducted what were in essence unethical experiments on the poor.”

Mr. Alston’s final report on his US visit will be available in Spring 2018 and will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2018.

>> Read Full Statement

TEACHING RESOURCE – VIDEOS
Professor Alston has prepared a series of short video clips perfect for stimulating class discussions on poverty, human rights, US exceptionalism, and other topics related to Alston’s official visit to the U.S. in December 2017.  More videos and information isn also available on Alston’s twitter feed, here.  A longer interview with Alston about his visit conducted at the Carnegie Council is here.

Professor Philip AlstonMr. Philip Alston (Australia) took up his functions as the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in June 2014. As a Special Rapporteur, he is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

NCSS 2018 – Call for Proposals and Reviewers!

The National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) invites you to submit a proposal to present a session and to review presentation proposals for selection by the program planning committee.  The 2018 NCSS Conference will be held November 30 – December 2 in Chicago, IL. The theme of this year’s conference is “Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow: Building the Future of Social Studies.”

Proposal Deadline: February 26

Whether or not you submit a proposal, please consider becoming a proposal reviewer.  As a reviewer, you will rate 12-15 proposals. The work is done entirely online, and you will help ensure that the conference reflects NCSS member’s interests and needs.  As an added incentive, reviewers receive a 10% discount on the conference registration as a thank you for their work.

>> Submit a Proposal
>> Sign up to be a Reviewer

Make a Difference During International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The 1948 the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethnical, racial, or religious group.” Abuses of human rights are endemic in genocide, and indeed, genocidal acts can be viewed as the ultimate form of human rights violations.

As International Holocaust Remembrance Day approaches on January 27, it is a good time to remember the victims of the Holocaust and to reflect on what we can do to bring about a more humane, just, and compassionate world.  Try this lesson, “Strategies for Making a Difference,” from Facing History and Ourselves‘ newly revised edition of Holocaust and Human Behavior, to challenge your students to do just this. Help them think through small steps they can take to bring about positive change in their community.

>>See  lesson by Facing History and Ourselves

For more information on how you can teach about genocide through a human rights context, please visit our HRE USA’s human rights education library for lesson plans, books, films, take action resources, and more.

>>See further HRE USA resources on genocide

Tasting History: How to Teach Immigration to a Class of Immigrants

by Jessica Lander, Facing History and Ourselves

In my US history classes this fall, we’ve been exploring the journeys of immigrants who came to these shores early in the 20th century. We have listened to accounts from Ellis Island and examined Emma Lazarus’ inscription on the Statue of Liberty.

As I searched for the unit’s final project, I found many proposed activities that began the same way: “Have your students imagine they are immigrants coming to a new country.”

Here I am in luck. Most of my students won’t have to “imagine.” I have a classroom full of experts.

The students I teach hail from 39 countries. Their immigrant stories are just as diverse. I have students born in Thai refugee camps; students who have escaped war in Iraq; and students who have flown from the bustling cities of Brazil in search of economic opportunities.

Immigrant and refugee students bring a wealth of knowledge, skills, and experiences to our classrooms — not to mention the perseverance it took for them to get here in the first place. But too often, our approach to these learners focuses on the one thing they often lack: English. In the academic hierarchies of high schools — AP, honors classes, college-level classes — English learners often sit on the bottom rung.

It’s obviously true that these students need to master English to thrive in American colleges and professions, but we’re missing something important when we focus so intently on their deficits. We’re overlooking how much they have to offer.

>> Read More

Black Lives Matter Week in D.C.

Attention Educators in the Washington D.C. area!

You are invited you to endorse and participate in the D.C. area Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools from February 5-10, 2018 to bring social justice issues into the classroom and empower students of color across the D.C. area.

D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice,  Center for Inspired Teaching, the Washington Teachers’ Union, D.C. area educators, and community members are collaborating on D.C. Area Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools. This week of action builds on the momentum of National Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Our Schools campaign taking place in cities across the U.S. to promote a set of local and national demands focused on improving the school experience for students of color.

Each day will explore two to three of the Black Lives Matter movement thirteen guiding principles. In school, teachers across the district will implement Black Lives Matter Week of Action curriculum designed for pre-K through 12th grade classrooms. In the evening, there will be events for educators, students, stakeholders, and community members to actively engage in the movement.

The goal of the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools is to spark an ongoing movement of critical reflection and honest conversations in school communities for people of all ages to engage with critical issues of social justice. It is our duty as educators and community members to civically engage students and build their empathy, collaboration, and agency so they are able to thrive. Students must learn to examine, address, and grapple with issues of racism and discrimination that persist in their lives and communities.

>> Learn More

Civil Rights Movement Teaching Institute

EVENT DETAILS:
When: July 9-27
Where: Duke University, Durham, NC
Stipend/Award: $2700 (The stipend is intended to help participants cover travel, housing, meals, and basic academic expenses)

Application deadline: March 1st

This summer teaching institute was designed by a collaborative team of scholars, veterans, and educators from Duke, the SNCC Legacy Project, Tougaloo College, and Teaching for Change. Participants (classroom teachers in grades 7-12) will learn the bottom-up history of the Civil Rights Movement and receive resources and strategies to bring it home to their students. They will have the unique opportunity to learn from the people who made the civil rights movement happen, and from the leading scholars of the era. Three key narratives will serve as the focus of this institute:

  1. The movement thrust forward its leaders, not the other way around.
  2. The tradition of protest grew out of a long history of activism in the black community.
  3. Grassroots activism was the major engine that led to legislative reforms.

>> Learn more and apply

Human Rights Innovation Fellowship

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is inviting applications for its Human Rights Innovation Fellowship on the topic “Resisting Criminalization.” Individuals or non-profit organizations with an innovative project that is relevant to the fellowship’s theme can apply.  In addition, advocacy organizations, academic institutions, research centers, grassroots organizations, and UUSC partners may apply for the fellowship. The fellowship will provide funding up to $25,000.

Application deadline: January 17

The fellowship proposal should address a major challenge facing individuals and/or communities who are criminalized in the  United States. Criminalization refers to policies and practices that stigmatize, scapegoat, and profile whole communities as “criminal” or “terrorist.” UUSC’s primary goals in this campaign are to advance community protection strategies and expanded sanctuary, decriminalize poverty, and advance restorative justice.

>> Learn more and apply