Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What is Poverty?

Most of us think of poverty as an economic problem. Poor people are people who don’t have enough money to live. And this is true, poverty certainly has an economic side. But the most significant issue of poverty is not economic, but social. If a person is unacceptable to society, they will never obtain economic increase. If a person is a serious criminal, or mentally ill, or is of the wrong ethnic group or has an irritating personality, they will almost never be able to create a sustainable income. Most people think of the poor as being lazy or simply unlucky. And while these factors may be involved, more likely the poor are those who have been deemed unacceptable by one standard or another.

If a woman is mentally ill, it doesn’t matter that she grew up in a wealthy household, she will not be cared for by her family. She will be institutionalized just as much as if she had been born in a middle class family. If a man is convicted for murder, even if he is innocent, and even if the verdict is overturned, his economic viability is over because no one would want to take a chance on him. If a person has a lot of money in the bank, but no one wishes to speak to him, then he is poor, although rich. Another person can be wealthy, but if no one will take her money because she has some unacceptable disease, then she might as well be completely impoverished.

The worst kind of poverty is separation from one’s fellow human beings. And ultimately, the worst of poverty is characterized by this. Those who end up on the street are those who have no family or friends to support them. The deepest poverty in Africa are not communities in poverty, but those who are alone, desperate, without help. And often communities of poverty grow because of the isolation of those who become poor. When people are separated from their support network and hit a tough spot, they look for others to help them. And some of the most generous communities in the world aren’t benefactors or philanthropists or Christian communities. They are the communities of those who are struck with poverty.

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