UN report blames Trump administration policies for soaring income and wealth inequality

Friday's report blames the Trump administration for policies that actively increase poverty and inequality.

A row of run down homes in Selma, Alabama. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A row of run down homes in Selma, Alabama. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A scathing new United Nations report has found that the United States is leading the developed world in income and wealth inequality, laying explicit blame with the Trump administration for policies that actively increase poverty and inequality in the country.

Friday’s report, which will be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council on June 21, is the result of U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston’s 10-day tour of the United States last year, when he investigated whether economic security in the country undermines human rights.

The report found that the United States “is now moving full steam ahead to make itself even more unequal,” citing the $1.5 trillion in tax cuts passed in December 2017, which “overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and worsened inequality.”

“The consequences of neglecting poverty and promoting inequality are clear,” the report concludes. “The policies pursued over the past year seem deliberately designed to remove basic protections from the poorest, punish those who are not in employment and make even basic health care into a privilege to be earned rather than a right of citizenship.”


In December, Alston visited seven locations throughout the country — ranging from Los Angeles’ Skid Row neighborhood to rural Alabama, West Virginia, and Puerto Rico — to meet with people experiencing deep poverty, along with experts and civil society groups.

In an interview with TalkPoverty ahead of the release, Alston characterized the United States as an outlier among the developed world.

“If you said to most Americans, ‘Look at what country X does to its ethnic minority or to a particular religious minority’ … your average American with any knowledge of that situation is going to shake her head and say, ‘This is a disgrace,’” he said. “But of course there’s a direct parallel in the United States and it affects not just a small ethnic minority but a very large racial group of African Americans in particular, where they just come out worse on every possible indicator and policies are clearly designed to hit them harder.”

Alston described meeting “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,” and people in Puerto Rico “living next to a mountain of completely unprotected coal ash, which rains down upon them bringing illness, disability, and death.”

In Lowndes County, Alabama, the U.N. found cesspools of sewage that flowed out of dysfunctional (or nonexistent) septic systems, which has led to a resurgence in diseases that officials believed were eradicated. A recent study found that more than one-third of people surveyed in Alabama tested positive for hookworm — a parasite that thrives in areas of poor sanitation, which has not been well-documented in the United States since the 1950s.


The reactions to Alston’s visit from the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress prior to the report’s release ranged from indifference to hostility. Alston requested meetings with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) and a range of Republican committee chairs — all of whom declined his request, he said.

Alston received mixed results from the Trump administration. While some agencies were cooperative, “the Justice Department … basically refused all requests to meet and that was pretty striking. It’s not the sort of thing that normally happens on a mission like this,” Alston said.

Sens. Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders, Rep. Terri Sewell, as well as Elizabeth Warren’s staff all met with Alston, he added.

The Human Rights Council oversees human rights protection around the world. Though the United States is an elected member of the council, it doesn’t have the friendliest relationship with the body. President George W. Bush boycotted the council at its founding in 2006 (a decision the Obama administration later reversed), and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has been a relentless critic of the council under Trump. Notably, the United States and Cuba are the only countries in North America that do not offer standing invitations from the Human Rights Council.

Alston was not hopeful of the odds that the report will force the administration to change course. During his visit, “The U.S. was visibly debating what to do with $1.5 trillion [in tax cuts]. And its proposals in relation to those living in poverty was essentially to cut back on existing benefits in order to help fund the tax reforms. That made for a pretty dramatic contrast for the approach that I have found elsewhere.”

A version of this story originally appeared on, a project of the Center for American Progress (CAP). ThinkProgress is editorially independent of CAP.