The Human Right to Freedom from Want: It’s Also a Basic Human Right Here in the United States, Mr. President

Yesterday, President Obama addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations.  He rightly noted that to “combat the poverty that punishes our children, we must act on the belief that freedom from want is a basic human right.”  He was referring to global poverty, and we could not agree with him more.  But we urge the president to remember that the United States is very much part of the global community and suffers from the same chronic social injustices as other societies around the globe. According to the latest Census data, 15.1 percent of Americans and 22 percent of our children now live in poverty – right here among us.  We must therefore recognize freedom from want as a basic human right here in the United States as well.

To make the human right to be free from want a reality in the United States, our government must address the savage economic system that is destroying our families and our people.  We must make health care a public good and housing a human right.  We must ensure work with dignity, economic security, and an education that enables each child to reach their full potential.  In other words, the United States must embrace and act upon an economic and social rights agenda for all people within its borders.

To date, this Administration has failed to recognize the human rights crisis in housing, neglecting the needs of people while serving the interests of banks and the finance sector; promoted a market-based reform for health care; left our schools chronically under-funded as a result of the crisis caused by actions of the very financial sector currently rewarded by U.S. law and policy; and has taken no serious actions to ensure that all people seeking work can find good jobs that support a dignified existence.  We continue to live in a society of savage inequities, with violence, poverty, exclusion, ill-health and suffering being symptoms of that disease.  Mr. President, human rights can provide the cure.  We ask you to take up your own challenge and act on the belief that everyone in the United States has a basic human right to freedom from want.  We have been waiting since your inauguration for this change we can believe in.  Tiring of the wait, we are strengthening our efforts to claim our human rights.