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American Dream Betrayed

E-Mails Show Trump White House Lied About U.S. Poverty Levels to Discredit Critical UN Report

Infuriated by a scathing United Nations report estimating that more than 18 million Americans are living in "extreme poverty" and accusing the Trump administration of "deliberately" making such destitution worse with its tax cuts for the rich, the White House insisted in its June response to the UN analysis that the United States is overflowing with "prosperity" and that claims of widespread poverty are "exaggerated."

But internal State Department e-mails and documents obtained by Foreign Policy and the non-profit journalism website Coda Story show that the Trump administration ignored advice of White House economic analysts and knowingly lied to the public about the severity of American poverty, which the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston described as "shocking."

Foreign Policy reported on Thursday that officials who were consulted last-minute on a draft of the White House's rebuttal of the U.N. findings "questioned the accuracy of the data the administration was citing."

Despite the fact that the UN analysis cited government statistics to bolster its claims about poverty in America, the Trump administration opted to draw from a report by the right-wing Heritage Foundation, which concluded that 250,000 Americans are living in extreme poverty - a stark contrast to the U.N.'s conclusion that the correct number is 18.25 million.

The Heritage report cited by the White House also concluded that the conditions of the poor must be improving because many families living in deep poverty own cell phones and DVD players.

"What is your source for stating material hardship is down by 77 percent since 1980?" Trudi Renwick, an economist at the Census Bureau, wrote in an e-mail questioning the Trump administration's rebuttal to the UN.

Foreign Policy reports that it is unclear whether Renwick received a response, and the White House kept references to the Heritage report in the final version of its response.

One economic adviser also urged the White House to "not get into" America's steady economic growth, writing: "Already 8-9 years long . . . which started under Obama and we inherited and then expanded. But it will end prob[ably] in 1-2 years." The Trump administration ignored this advice, touting a "new era of economic growth."

While the White House brushed aside the concerns of some officials, they did modify parts of their response to the UN after advisers questioned how truly prosperous the American economy is under Trump.

"Wages haven't really picked up, other than for supervisors," an official from the Council of Economic Advisers wrote in response to a line in an early draft about workers' salaries rising. "This triggers the left - best to leave it off."

The line was deleted from the final document.

In contrast to the officials who raised questions about the White House's economic claims, Mari Stull, a senior State Department adviser, attacked the UN report as "propaganda" in e-mails and mocked the UN's accurate claim that American child poverty rates are among the highest in the industrialized world.

"Based upon my own experience, my sons are destitute poor and living off the welfare state of Mom - so guess they contributed to the 'youth poverty' crisis in America," Stull wrote.

Bathsheba Crocker, a former U.S. diplomat and vice president of humanitarian policy at CARE, called Stull's comment "unbelievable" and wrote that it demonstrates once again the "contempt" the Trump administration has for poor Americans.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

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Posted on August 7, 2018


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