Documents obtained by Foreign Policy and the nonprofit crisis journalism website Coda Story show that the Trump administration knowingly lied about poverty statistics in their rebuttal to a UN Human Rights Council report on poverty in America earlier this year.
The UN commission reported that 40 million Americans live in poverty, with five million living in “third world conditions.” The Trump administration’s rebuttal called the report “inaccurate, inflammatory and irresponsible.” The US left the UN Human Rights Council not long after, citing its attitude towards Israel as the reason for withdrawing.
While drafting the rebuttal, Mari Stull, a Trump-appointed senior State Department advisor, asked for comments from the Census Bureau and the White House Council of Economic Advisers. The documents obtained by Foreign Policy show that those comments disputed the claims made in the draft by the administration. Most of these comments were ignored, with the original claims making it into the final version shared with the public.
Foreign Policy writes:
Next to a line in the draft which reads: “The U.S. is entering a new era of economic growth and prosperity,” an official from the White House Council of Economic Advisers remarked that the economic growth had long predated Trump and said the trajectory might not last.
“Already 8-9 years long … which started under Obama and we inherited and then expanded. But it will end prob in 1 – 2 years. So I’d not get into this,” the official wrote.
Again, the final version of the statement, put out by the U.S. Mission to Geneva on June 22, ignored the suggestion and used the original language.
Sometimes, they did take the advice of the council, avoiding blatant inaccuracies, but revealing the officials contempt of the truth.
“Wages haven’t really picked up, other than for supervisors,” one official from the Council of Economic Advisers wrote in response to a line in the draft about salaries going up. The line was deleted from the final statement. “This triggers the left—best to leave it off,” the official wrote.
Yes, that’s our White House Council of Economic Advisors talking about “triggering the left” with statistics on wage stagnation.
The inaccuracies pointed out by the Council of Economic Advisors also included statements about housing and aid to Puerto Rico:
At one point, the draft asserts that “people experiencing a housing crisis in a community have fair and equal access and are connected to available housing and related assistance based on their strengths and needs.”
In the margin, an official from the Council of Economic Advisers wrote: “Massive waiting lists for vouchers—not sure this is our strong suit,” an apparent reference to the U.S. government’s program to help low-income families obtain housing.
The draft also also noted the $18 billion had been allocated to Puerto Rico after devastating hurricanes in 2017. In response, an official from the Council of Economic Advisers wrote: “Pretty sure that’s peanuts compared to what the mainland got so you may want to rethink this.”
Many of the statistics used in the administration’s rebuttal were drawn not from the government’s own census data, but from a report by the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank, who have become increasingly extreme in recent years.
One line in the final report citing the Heritage Foundation claimed that most Americans living in extreme poverty “have air conditioning, a cell phone, a computer, and a DVD player or similar device. Few have been evicted from their home or even had their utilities disconnected for non-payment. Hunger is rare.”
The Council of Economic Advisers didn’t respond to Foreign Policy’s requests for comment. White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters told the publication that the council was “in complete agreement with the economic assessment in the United States’ rebuttal to the U.N.’s Report on Poverty.” Based on Foreign Policy’s reporting, this clearly wasn’t the case when the rebuttal was being drafted.
The former U.S. ambassador to the Human Rights Council, Keith Harper, said that these exchanges around a US report were outside the realm of his experience. “[W]e would say that we support the work, we appreciate the analysis, here are a few ways that we disagree with the analysis… this does none of that,” he told Foreign Policy. “[This] is the kind of tone that I would expect from China or North Korea or Egypt or Bahrain.”