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A boy from an East Cipinang trash dump slum in Jakarta, Indonesia  shows his find.
A boy from an East Cipinang trash dump slum in Jakarta, Indonesia shows his find.

Poverty is the state of being without the necessities of daily living, often associated with need, hardship and lack of resources across a wide range of circumstances. For some, poverty is a subjective and comparative term; for others, it is moral and evaluative; and for others, scientifically established. The principal uses of the term include:

  • Descriptions of material need, including deprivation of essential goods and services, multiple deprivation, and patterns of deprivation over time.
  • Economic circumstances, describing a lack of wealth (usually understood as capital, money, material goods, or resources, especially natural resources). The meaning of "sufficient" varies widely across the different political and economic parts of the world. In the European Union, poverty is also described in terms of "economic distance", or inequality.
  • Social relationships, including social exclusion, dependency, and the ability to live what is understood in a society as a "normal" life: for instance, to be capable of raising a healthy family, and especially educating children and participating in society.
Washing clothes in Mumbai
Washing clothes in Mumbai

A person living in the condition of poverty is said to be poor or impoverished.


Discourses on poverty

Poverty is studied by many social, scientific and cultural disciplines.

  • In economics, conventional discourse focuses on two kinds of poverty: absolute and relative. Absolute poverty refers to a set standard which is consistent over time and between countries. Relative poverty views poverty as socially defined and dependent on social context. Poverty is measured either by indices of consumption or of income. Some countries, like the US measure poverty by identifying a minimum dietary or basket of goods; the US poverty line is based on a multiplier of dietary costs. The main conventional measure used in the OECD and the European Union, however, is based on "economic distance", a level of income set at 50% or 60% of the median household income.
  • In politics, the fight against poverty is usually regarded as a social goal and many governments have — secondarily at least — some dedicated institutions or departments. Active interventions may include housing plans, social pensions, special job opportunities, or requirements.
  • In law, there has been a movement to seek to establish universal "human rights" which aim to eliminate poverty.
  • In education, poverty affects a student's ability to effectively profit from the learning environments. Especially for younger students coming from poverty, their primary needs as described in Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs; the need for a safe and stable homes, clothes on their backs, and regular meals clouds a student's ability to learn. Furthermore, in education circles there is a term used to characterize the phenomenon of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer (as it relates to education but easily transfers to poverty in general) called the Matthew effect.

Related debates on a states' human capital and a person's individual capital tend likewise to focus on access to the instructional capital and social capital available only to those educated in such formal systems.

Goals of Humanity

There are goals beyond the "egoistic" concerns of every nation to optimize their own actual situation that concern humanity as a whole.


The aim to discover any new scientifical breakthrough or achieve civilizational progress appeals to have an amount of resources to spend that we do not have. In reality we might rather have the resources to help the poor people to stop starving and to participate in development by their own, than to make the real breaktrough just by the few of us in the developed nations. Organized human activities throughout the whole world might be worthier for civilization than a few extra dollars in the short or mid-term for a few nations.

World poverty

The Copenhagen Declaration describes absolute poverty as "a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information." The World Bank identifies "extreme poverty" as being people who live on less than USD $1 a day, and "poverty" as less than $2 a day. On that standard, 21% of the world's population was in extreme poverty, and more than half the world's population were poor in 2001. [1]

The World Bank states that in 2001 worldwide about 1.1 billion humans (which is 21% of the worldpopulation) had less than $1 in local purchasing power per day. (In comparison: 1981 there were 1.5 billion humans, which made up 40% of the worldpopulation; in 1987 1.227 billion humans equaling 30%; 1993 1.314 billion humans equaling 29% of the worldpopulation).

The Borgen Project points out that while U.S. leaders give $230 billion a year to military contractors, only $19 billion a year is needed to achieve the U.N. Millennium Development Goals [2] of ending severe poverty by 2025.

Poverty may be seen as the collective condition of poor people, or of poor groups, and in this sense entire nation-states are sometimes regarded as poor. To avoid stigma these are usually called developing nations, but this too is considered derogatory by some.

Maps of world poverty can be found at povertymap.net. There is evidence of poverty in every region. In developed countries, this condition results in wandering homeless people and poor suburbs (with so-called bidonvilles or favelas) in which poor people are—more or less—restricted to a ghetto. See List of countries by poverty.

Causes of poverty

Poverty has been attributed to:

  • individual, or "pathological" causes, behavior or choices of individuals;
  • structural causes, poverty is the result of the social preconditions such as:
Unequal income distribution
Geographic factors
Lack of Globalization
Education and skills
Age discrimination
Gender discrimination
Racial discrimination
  • familial causes, which attribute poverty to upbringing;
  • subcultural causes, which attribute poverty to common patterns of life, learned or shared within a community;
  • agency causes, which see poverty as the result of the actions of others, including war, government and the economy;

Eliminating poverty

The main responses to poverty are:

  • Poor Relief, or giving aid direct to poor people. This has been part of the approach of European societies since the middle ages. For example, the relief of poverty was recognised as a legal charitable purpose by the English Statute of Charitable Uses (Statute of Elizabeth) in 1601.
  • Responses to individual circumstances. A variety of measures have been taken to change the situation of poor people on an individual basis, including e.g. punishment, education, social work, employment, and workfare.
  • Provision for contingencies. Rather than providing for poor people directly, many welfare states have provided for categories of people who are likely to be poor, such as old people or people with disabilities, or circumstances which may impoverish people, like the need for health care.
  • Strategic intervention. Many people have argued that poor people can be helped to change their circumstances through focusing on selected, specific measures. Examples have included political participation, community organizing, urban regeneration and the development of social capital.
  • Economic development. The anti-poverty strategy of the World Bank depends heavily on preventing poverty through the promotion of economic growth. It is often argued that "a rising tide lifts all boats," though as critics comment, it can also sink those that are held down.

Most developing countries have produced Poverty Reduction Strategy papers or PRSPs [3]. In addition to broader approaches the Sachs report (for the UN Millenimum Project)[4] proposes a series of "quick wins", approaches identified by development experts that would cost relatively little but could have a major effect on world poverty. The quick wins are:

  • eliminating school fees
  • providing soil nutrients to farmers in sub-Saharan Africa
  • free school meals for schoolchildren
  • supporting breast-feeding
  • deworming school children in affected areas
  • training programmes for community health workers in rural areas
  • providing mosquito nets
  • ending user fees for basic health care in developing countries
  • access to information on sexual and reproductive health
  • drugs for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria
  • upgrading slums, and providing land for public housing
  • access to electricity, water and sanitation
  • legislation for women’s rights, including rights to property
  • action against domestic violence
  • appointing government scientific advisors in every country, and
  • planting trees.

In his book “The End of Poverty", world renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs laid out a lucid plan to eradicate global poverty by the year 2025. Following his doctrine, international organizations such as the Global Solidarity Network are helping end poverty working with governments and partners to help eradicate poverty worldwide with known, proven, reliable, and appropriate interventions in the areas of housing, food, education, basic health, agricultural inputs, safe drinking water, transportation and communications.

Debates about poverty

Poverty is a highly political issue. People with right wing views often see it as related to laziness, a lack of family planning or too much interference of government. People with left wing views see it more in terms of social justice and lack of opportunity in education. It is a highly complex issue in which various factors often play a part.

The condition in itself is not always considered negatively, even if this is the prevalent interpretation: some cultural or religious groups consider poverty an ideal condition to live in, a condition necessary in order to reach certain spiritual or intellectual states. Poverty in this sense is understood as the lack of material possessions. For some orders this is equivalent to voluntary simplicity: Mother Teresa said that the vow "frees us from all material possessions". However the vow of poverty traditionally goes beyond that: the Dominicans "lived a life of voluntary poverty, exposing themselves to innumerable dangers and sufferings, for the salvation of others." (Honorius III, 1217).

There are also several different ways to measure poverty. See income inequality metrics.

The German social scientist Richard Albrecht recently gave a theoretical overview on "pauper/ism" within advanced capitalist societies according to that "late modern age" (Anthony Giddens) as sketched as a grounded concept by Karl Marx named "relative Übervölkerung" (relative overpopulation). Moreover, this copyleft-essay sketches within current German society an empirical "poverty line" which also includes "working poor". The scholarly piece has got an English summary: "Pauper(ismus) bei Marx"; [[5]]; abriged version (without English summary): "Pauperismus: Mit uns zieht die neue Zeit". Die Sozialpolitik der SPD und die Wiederkehr eines überwunden geglaubten Phänomens [[6]]

See also

External links

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