Extreme poverty returns to America

The U.N. finds growing numbers of Americans are living in the most impoverished circumstances. How did we get here?

“Finish all your food,” my mother used to tell me. “There’s a child in Africa who would love to have that food on your plate.” It was an effective disciplinary approach, especially because my family is from Africa. But my experience is not unique. Images of poverty in the “Third World” — then and now — permeate American society, reassuring us about our country’s ostensible democratic promise and potential for upward mobility. What economists call “extreme poverty,” most Americans think, is a distant problem, a hallmark of the less developed world.

But could extreme poverty also be a feature of what is (although perhaps not for long) one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world? Quite possibly. To answer the question, the United Nations launched an investigation of extreme poverty in the United States.

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