A screen from "The Story of American Poverty, as Told by One Alabama County." Image by Zach Fannin. United States, 2018.
A screen from 'The Story of American Poverty, as Told by One Alabama County.' Image by Zach Fannin. United States, 2018.

The growing issue of inequality in what we are used to thinking of as the developed world led the UN Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty to pay a visit to America and produce the kind of UN report more commonly associated with failing states.

His mission took him to three hardscrabble locations across the continental US. Lowndes County in Alabama, where open sewage has caused a resurgence in debilitating hookworm infections common in Africa, McDowell County in West Virginia, where male life expectancy is the same as Namibia, and California's Skid Row, where the homeless live in an environment akin to a Syrian refugee camp.

In this project, Newshour Weekend explores why poverty worthy of a UN report continues to endure in the wealthiest of nations in a three-part series following Alston's footsteps. The team met with the local authorities in Alabama who tell them providing sewage infrastructure to mostly black residents in poor neighborhoods is not part of their job. But when a community activist group pressed local authorities to do something, officials did invest $6 million in extending waste treatment systems to primarily white-owned businesses.

In West Virginia, where the poorest of the poor are entitled to subsidized health care, the team finds out why it doesn't cover dental care, leaving most over 30-year-olds in one area with hardly any teeth. Doctors at Health Right, a volunteer-based medical center do what they can, but a shortfall in resources means often that's only healing gum infections where teeth used to be.

In California's megacities, NewsHour Weekend looks into why homelessness rates have jumped by a staggering 25 percent in the past year and spend a day in the life of a resident of Skid Row. They also visit the only church in San Francisco that still lets the homeless sleep inside while other houses of worship have all shuttered their doors.

Then, the team sits down with the UN rapporteur himself. No stranger to controversy, the outspoken NYU lecturer explains that the grinding poverty that is allowed to go on in America is preventable. The persistence of extreme poverty is not caused by factors beyond our control, but stems from "a political choice made by those in power... with political will, it could readily be eliminated," he says.