Pat Conover: Sharing the Journey
Understanding Poverty: Guiding Questions

Chichicastenango Church
Definition of Poverty
Poverty is a lack of income to pay for life necessities.

Examples of Kinds of Poverty

Sweat shops along the border with Mexico and life in Colonias

Former Appalachian coal mining towns

Very low wage scales in South Dakota

Harsh environment and poor infrastructure in Maine

Abandoned neighborhoods, drugs and crime, in Baltimore

Unemployment in Miami following large scale in-migration

Individuals with learning disabilities who do not qualify as disabled

Losing employment as a result of contracting breast cancer

Loss of infrastructure and educational opportunities in rural areas of the Midwest

Elderly left behind in diminishing small towns

Elderly who out live their financial resources

Job loss when an auto plant shuts down

Cut backs in child care and health insurance as companies try to stay afloat in recession

Bankruptcy of small businesses serving the wealthy in a time of wealth loss

Single mothers who lose TANF benefits due to time limits on the benefits

Immigrants without legal papers who are exploited by unscrupulous contractors

People with very low self-esteem due to a long history of abuse

Young people without a job history in a tight job market

Giving up employment to care for family members

Examples of Causes of Poverty

Inequality in pay for women

Failure to complete high school

"Urban Removal" that destroys affordable housing

Gentrification that destroys affordable housing

Instability of income in the "gray market" (hair braiding, dog walking, selling crafts, busking)

Inability to speak English

Exporting of once good-paying manufacturing jobs to Indonesia, etc.

Gaps in providing for health care (Loss of income and paying medical bills with out insurance is one of the top two causes of downward economic mobility)

Low Social Security benefits and no pensions for some retirees

Sub-prime mortgage scandal and current financial crisis

Loss of income leading to foreclosure of home mortgages

A job skill becoming obsolete due to technological changes

Money not circulating within low-income neighborhoods but being pulled out to national and big chains and multinationals (e.g. Wall Mart versus Main Street)

Isolation of Native American on reservations

Drug and alcohol addictions

Failure to invest in rural infrastructure such as rural schools or water systems

Lack of a living wage


Anomie: lack of basic life skills and participation in social networks

Lack of opportunity for ex-convicts



Usurious credit card rates and check cashing costs

Racial discrimination in access to jobs, training, housing, insurance, etc. (or over-charging)

Limitations on union organizing

The federal debt and resistance to funding low-income programs

Family unfriendly employment policies such as high cost of child care

Poor schools in low-income areas because of dependence on local school financing

Children with only one or zero parents

Poor health practices of people with low incomes, e.g. diet of fat and sugar

Undocumented immigrants and some legal immigrants driving down pay for marginal workers.

Declining birth rates and an aging population.

Failure to invest in physical and social infrastructure

Tax policies that have sharply increased income and wealth inequality

Poor states versus rich states

Military spending that dominates discretionary spending by the federal government

Policies in some jurisdictions of cutting back anti-poverty supports with the goal of driving out unwanted low-income people

Difficulty in learning about and gaining access to available benefits

Lack of public transit access to available jobs

The employment law that requires any company providing health care benefits to any employee to provide them for all employees working more than 20 hours a week.

Guiding Questions for Understanding a Kind of Poverty

What is your definition, and what are competing definitions, of which people are experiencing the kind of poverty?

Where are these people living? (neighborhood,city/town, urban/rural, state, region, etc.)

What are the individual factors that matter (physiological, psychological, relational, educational level, family dynamics, language)?

What are the group interaction factors that matter?

What are the important resources involved?

What are the key institutions involved (governments, non-profits, professional organizations, businesses, churches, etc.)?

What are your goals, and competing goals, regarding this kind of poverty (reduction, support, research)?

What are the paths in and out of this kind of poverty?

How much do issues of stigma and shame matter?

What are the rewards for staying in this kind of poverty versus moving out?

Who benefits from this kind of poverty? (Follow the money.)

What are the historic patterns for this kind of poverty (increase/decrease, location, etc.)?

How well is this kind of poverty understood by professionals, by the general public?

Are there good programs for overcoming this kind of poverty? Is spending more money on programs an important/sufficient answer?

How much is this kind of poverty affected by business/economic factors versus individual and governmental factors?

How important are culture issues, both general cultural attitudes (racism, sexism, etc.) and sub-cultural values and conceptions of those within the kind of poverty?

Biography | What's New | Leave a Comment | View Comments | Fair Use Policy

Search this site or the web powered by FreeFind

Site search Web search