America isn't perfect. Perhaps you've noticed. There are a myriad of healthcare problems, racial tensions, and this weird sanitation problem in D.C. where an amorphous orange blob keeps turning up in the Oval Office. And that's just the stuff we know about. There is a whole slew of other problems that goes mostly unpublicized; problems you'd think even Third World countries would have eradicated by now. For instance ...
Ever had your water or power shut off? It feels like living in the Stone Age ... for a few days. But for some 1.7 million Americans, that's every day. Not because they don't pay their bills, but because they somehow still don't have access to basic utilities like power, running water, or a sewer system.
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In El Paso County, Texas, a series of small communities entirely lacks running water and proper sewage systems. About 500,000 people live in these colonias. As a direct result of this absence, the people there have a much higher than average risk of diseases (including some of the classics, like freaking leprosy). Alejandra Fierra and her husband bought land in the Hueco Tanks colonia in 1987. Thirty years later, they still don't have access to running water or any sort of sewer system. Washing and bathing water comes from a tank they have filled. They buy drinking and cooking water bottled, from Walmart. That's right: They have to go Walmart regularly. Truly, this is a curse.
To the surprise of virtually no one, Native Americans have been handed a sizable slice of this particular humble pie. Thirteen percent of Native Americans don't have access to running water, compared to just 0.04 percent of everybody else. An estimated 40 percent of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico is without running water, leaving them with no option but to haul water from faraway taps. Fun fact: This costs them 72 times more than your average American pays for his delicious, easily accessible tap water. Those who can't afford it are stuck with whatever (generally non-potable) water sources they can find. Fortunately, they have help, like DIGDEEP, an L.A. nonprofit specializing in defending citizens' rights to clean water, and Darlene the Water Lady, a volunteer who drives a monthly water truck round to provide hundreds of Navajo Nation families with clean water.
To save resources, these families will often use the same water to bathe, wash dishes, and flush toilets (provided they have any), hopefully in that order. Most families tend to run out at some point during the month. That's when things get very Tank Girl. See, even non-existent water is better than deadly water. In 2015, the residents of Sanders, Arizona (which just so happens to be mostly populated by Navajo) were abruptly informed that all of their water was contaminated with dangerously high levels of cancer-causing uranium. Turns out, no one bothered to tell the residents their well was built near an old Cold War mine. Maybe they were just hoping the whole town would develop super powers.
While they may pay the bills with gifs of celebrities who can't even, Buzzfeed also employs investigative reporters who work to break serious news. In late 2016, they broke open a truly terrifying story about America's largest chain of psychiatric facilities: Universal Health Services, a healthcare juggernaut affiliated with 200 psychiatric facilities in the country, which admits close to 450,000 patients a year and rakes in around $7.5 billion per year in inpatient care revenue.
According to a ridiculous 175 whistleblowers inside UHS, some of its facilities encourage their employees to find any reason to commit people who have health insurance, all while padding their profit margin by keeping minimal staff. Their favorite tactic: Virtually anybody that goes in for a voluntary assessment is diagnosed with "suicide ideation," which is grounds for immediate, involuntary admittance to the ward. Once their insurance is sucked dry, it's back on the street for the patients.
Several former UHS employees said they were told to "play up the criteria" so insurers like Medicare and Medicaid would approve hospitalization. They were taught how to twist passing statements into something that sounded suicidal. In fact, when UHS bought 100 hospitals from a competitor, the facilities saw their suicide ideation claims to Medicare jump up sixfold within a year.
UHS, naturally, denies all these claims and has not, at the time of writing, received as much as a slap on the wrist for its alleged actions. However, it is worth noting that ten percent of its hospitals are currently under investigation for Medicare fraud. Eh, it's probably just coincidence.
The American nationwide minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, and everyone can probably agree that's not a great deal of money. But imagine if you made that wage, showed up at work ... and after 16 minutes your boss stops the clock, tells you that the shift is over, and hands you your kingly wage of $2. Now, imagine this happened every day, to every one of your family members.
Unemployment, health issues, and other assorted misfortunes have landed an unholy number of American families in this exact predicament. According to a 2012 report by Stanford University, a ridiculous 1.6 million American households get by with under $2 a day per person.
Over half of the children in the public school system are from low-income families, and for some children, what they eat in school is all they eat on a regular basis. Fortunately, many schools are rising to the challenge. Some are starting to offer dinner in addition to breakfast and lunch, and teachers are privately stocking snacks in an effort to stop their classrooms from turning into Cannibal Holocaust.
Glenn Russell/Free Press via USA Today
The whole child marriage thing isn't just a Third World situation. In America, it's thriving: In New Jersey alone, there were 3,481 marriages that involved children between 1995 and 2012. Most were between 16 and 17 -- meaning they only needed parental consent -- but a staggering 163 marriages included children between the ages of 13 and 15, which requires permission from a judge. On a related note, holy shit, there are actually judges who grant permission for this shit. Ninety-one percent were married to adults, and it probably goes without saying that the majority of the children being wed off were girls.
Now, New Jersey probably shouldn't be used as an example of, well, anything, but that still doesn't explain the estimated 167,000-248,000 children who were married off in 38 different states between 2000-2010. Some were as young as twelve. Twelve.
There is no minimum legal age for marriage in 27 American states, and many of the ones that do have an "age floor" as low as 13-14. As long as the parents/judge are on board, so is the law. And even though the line between "parental consent" and "parental coercion" is as thin as it is squicky, only ten states have any sort of laws that punish forced marriages. Many U.S. states have zero way of stopping parents from forcing their kids to be married.
But surely, the states would have noticed the steady steam of child marriages by now and put a stop to it, right? Well, they have. Unfortunately, some lawmakers in these states see antiquated marriage laws as a religious freedom. Others believe that marriage is simply the best way to deal with unwanted pregnancies, because the guy that knocked up your 13-year-old daughter is definitely "the one."
Fortunately, America has been getting its shit together about child marriages recently. In 2016, the State Department launched the Global Strategy To Empower Adolescent Girls plan to fight this specific issue, and declare it a human rights abuse. Oh, wait, that was part of our foreign policy? Carry on, New Jersey.
For more issues you'd think the U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A would've figured out by now, check out 5 Surprisingly Solvable Problems (America Can't Figure Out) and 6 Shockingly Outdated Problems The U.S. Legal System Won't Fix.
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