Human rights record of the United States

Updated: 2016-04-15 08:09

(China Daily)

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Economic and Social Rights under Challenge

In 2015, no substantial progress concerning the economic and social rights of U.S. citizens were made. Workers carried out mass strikes to claim their rights at work. Food-insecure and homeless populations remained huge. Many U.S. people suffered from poor health.

The rights of laborers at work were not effectively protected. On October 6, 2015, Al Jazeera America reported that about 40 percent of private-sector workers, or 44 million people in America, did not have access to paid sick leave. Large scale strikes in many industries were reported. In February 2015, workers at nine oil refineries in California, Texas, Kentucky and Washington states carried out strikes, protesting onerous overtime, unsafe staffing levels and dangerous conditions (, February 2, October 6, 2015). In April, the same year, fast food workers walked off the job in 230 cities, staging a strike aimed at a minimum wage of 15 U.S. dollars. In November, they walked out in hundreds of cities for the same reason. About 2,000 workers at seven major U.S. airports went on strike in November to protest low wages (, April 15, 2015;, November 10, November 19, 2015).

There was huge income gap between the rich and the poor. In the United States, 3.1 percent of income earned annually went to the poorest 20 percent of people, while 51.4 percent was earned by the richest 20 percent (, October 10, 2015). Official data showed that 46.7 million people were living in poverty in 2014. ( In Delaware, the percentage of people living below the federal poverty line in 2014 was 12.5 percent, creeping up from 11.7 percent in 2013. Nearly a quarter of residents of Wilmington, Delaware lived below the poverty line. The poverty rate for children was around 20 percent. U.S. people were pessimistic about the prospects of social and economic instability. Seventy-nine percent of Americans believed it was more common for people to fall out of the middle class than rise up to it (, June 9, November 23, 2015).

There was a large food-insecure population in the United States. According to a report published on the Guardian website on November 26, 2015, government statistics suggested that between 2008 and 2014 at least 48.1 million people a year were classed as "food insecure", including 19.2 percent of all households with children, meaning they could not always afford to eat balanced meals (, November 26, 2015). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that each year, 48 million people suffered from a foodborne illness, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths (, December 4, 2015). Approximately one fifth of all U.S. children lived in food-insecure households, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (, October 8, 2015).

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. people were homeless. A report published on the USA Today website on June 9, 2015 said housing prices had skyrocketed in the United States in recent years, while income levels remained stagnant. Fifty-five percent of Americans had made more financial sacrifice to afford their housing. According to a report by the National Association of Realtors, the gap between rental costs and household income had been widening to unsustainable levels (, June 9, July 31, 2015). A study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found that more than 560,000 people were homeless in the United States as of November 18, 2015. About one fourth of them were children under the age of 18 ( In New York City, there were 59,568 homeless people, including 14,361 homeless families with 23,858 homeless children, sleeping each night in municipal shelters in October 2015, 86 percent higher than the number in 2005. People living on streets had no access to toilets or showers (, November 11, 2015). In recent years, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and the state of Hawaii have all recently declared emergencies over the rise of homelessness (, November 20, 2015).

Human right to health of U.S. people was not fully protected. According to a report of the Institute for Policy Innovation released on September 18, 2015, there were still 33 million people in the United States uninsured, although U.S. Congress had passed the health care reform bill in 2010, promising to establish a universal healthcare system (, September 18, 2015).

The United States was reported to have the worst medical care system and the highest number of infant mortalities out of 11 developed countries (, August 23, 2015). There were more than 6,200 places nationwide with a shortage of primary care physicians (, December 12, 2015). Today, more than 1.2 million people in the United States are HIV-positive. About one in eight of those infected were unaware of their status (, December 9, 2015). There was a significant difference between the health conditions of the rich and the poor. According to an AFP report on October 14, 2015, in Brooklyn's poorest neighborhood of Brownsville, New York City, nearly 40 percent of its citizens lived below the federal poverty level. Brownsville suffered more than twice the rates of new HIV diagnoses in New York City. Its people died 11 years earlier than those living around Manhattan's financial district. (AFP, October 14, 2015).

Case fatality rate due to drug overdose set new record high. According to a CDC report, drug overdose was the leading cause of diseases in the United States. The death rate from drug overdose more than doubled from 6.0 per 100,000 population in 1999 to 13.8 in 2013. More than 47,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2014, an increase of 3,018 from 2013. Heroin poses the biggest threat among all forms of drug overdose. In 2013, deaths from heroin-related overdose exceeded 8,200, nearly quadrupling that of 2002. In 2014, the number surged to 10,574. Increasing number of young people and females took heroin. Compared with figures in the period from 2002 to 2004, the numbers of young heroin addicts aged between 18 and 25 in 2011-2013 period increased by 109 percent, while female users doubled (, October 16, December 29, 2015;, December 18, 2015).