Poverty and Inequality

We live in a staggeringly unequal world. According to the 2018 World Inequality Report, the richest 1 percent of humanity reaped more than twice as large a share of global income between 1980 and 2016 as the bottom 50 percent combined. Oxfam reports that 82% of all wealth created in 2017 alone went to the top 1% of the world’s population, while none went to the bottom 50%. In the shadow of this skewed wealth accumulation, nearly 700 million people live in extreme poverty. That figure more than doubles when multidimensional measures of poverty are used, capturing not only lack of income and wealth, but deprivation of a range of rights, from access to food, to schooling, housing and health care.

Economic inequality, meanwhile, is by no means the only form of disparity that affects human rights. Multiple forms of inequality that frequently map onto gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and ability, interact to deprive people of enjoyment of their social, economic, civil, and political rights. As the bedrock principles of human rights, equality and non-discrimination have long been at the center of human rights research and advocacy, and conceptions of states’ minimum core obligations under human rights law have focused debates around poverty on absolute floors in the provision of basic rights. As a result, there exists a robust literature examining poverty as both a cause and consequence of human rights violations, and ample analysis of the relationship between various forms of status-base discrimination, the resultant inequalities, and human rights. But there is less understanding of how human rights law relates to the types of extreme economic inequality and relative deprivation we are witnessing today.

CHRGJ pushes the bounds of human rights research, scholarship, and advocacy to grapple more meaningfully with these questions. The Initiative on Inequality, the Global Economy, and Human Rights, launched in 2015, harnesses the Center’s extensive and diverse in-house expertise and sparks new conversations with visiting and partner advocates, scholars, and students on the connections between economic and fiscal policies, growing inequalities, and human rights. The Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Project creates a platform for the extensive activities of CHRGJ Faculty Director and Co-Chair Philip Alston, as he serves his second term as UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, generating related research and programming, such as the American Poverty and Human Rights series. Concerns with poverty and inequality are also core to the work of the Global Justice Clinic, which has been a pioneer among human rights law clinics in the United States in its dedication to addressing economic injustice through innovative, evidence-based approaches.

Our Experts
Philip Alston
CHRGJ Director and Chair
John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law
Margaret L. Satterthwaite
CHRGJ Director
Director, Global Justice Clinic
Professor of Clinical Law
Sally Engle Merry
CHRGJ Director
Silver Professor of Anthropology
Christiaan van Veen
Director, Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project
Nikki Reisch
CHRGJ Legal Director
Supervising Attorney, Global Justice Clinic
Anna Bulman
Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights
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What the “Digital Welfare State” Really Means for Human Rights
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Why the Digitization of Welfare States is a Pressing Human Rights Issue
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October 16, 2019
UN Special Rapporteur Report on the Digitization of Welfare States
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May 6, 2020
Ethics and Applicability of the Social Distancing Model in the Global South
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October 17, 2019
Human Rights in the Digital Age: Can they Make a Difference?
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Related Pages

Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Project
Initiative on Inequality, the Global Economy, and Human Rights
Economic and Social Rights
Global Justice Clinic

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