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What's Wrong With America
Despite being the second wealthiest country in the world, America’s social welfare system is one of the worst.
Currently, America is falling behind over half of the United Nation’s 17 goals for developed countries, which are: no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, industry, innovation and infrastructure, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water, life on land peace, justice and strong institutions, and partnerships for the goals. Meanwhile our former president denigrated countries like Haiti for being a “shithole” country when we, in fact, are one of those “shithole” countries.
Despite being the second wealthiest country in the world after China, America’s social welfare system is one of the worst in the world. Even though Americans pay the most for prescription drugs and health care, medical errors are the third-leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer in the United States. Furthermore, a lack of mental health awareness and access is directly correlated with the rise of violent crime. Christina Lee’s killer, who had been arrested multiple times, at least once for physical assault, was never given a mental health evaluation and instead tossed onto the streets—a common practice that occurs today with the homeless population that began when President Reagan deinstitutionalized psychiatric hospitals and released the mentally ill onto the streets.
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a theory taught in every basic psychology 101 course, an individual must have their basic needs (food, water, shelter, safety, and security) met in order to ascend up the pyramid and eventually self-actualize and live a purposeful life. In America, a country with one of the highest income gaps in the world and an increasing homeless and prison population, who are disproportionately BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or People of Color), for many, basic rights have become a privilege. It’s no surprise that mental illnesses like PTSD, depression, and anxiety are on the rise—our safety is not guaranteed whether we are Asian Americans on the subway, Black Americans asleep in their homes, migrant children separated from their parents, or American children and their parents who fear for their kids’ safety everyday at schools, concerts, and movie theaters.
Meanwhile developed countries like Norway, the Netherlands, and Finland have moved away from punitive approaches to crime and poverty and instead value the humanity of its citizens. Twenty years ago, Norway moved away from a punitive "lock-up" approach and sharply cut reoffending rates. The goal is for rehabilitation through holistic practices like yoga, daily training and educational programs, and prison officers that are viewed as role models, coaches, and mentors. Through a complete revamp of the prison system, recidivism in Norway has fallen to only 20% after two years and about 25% after five years, a huge contrast compared to the United States’ recidivism rate of 60-70%. Moreover, the Netherlands have adopted a harm reduction model when it comes to drugs and aims to increase the quality of life of people who use drugs instead of punishing them. Finland, the only country in the EU where homelessness is falling, has adopted the housing first model and gives people homes as soon as they need them, unconditionally.
A viral image of white police officers who arrested shoplifters for stealing diapers and baby supplies circulated the web a few months ago. Instead of funding more money to police (who tend to exacerbate mental health crises situations), another solution can be to fund more social programs like WIC—the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children which provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk. The logic is simple—if we give people what they need, they won’t need to commit crimes.