What is Poverty?

Poverty is more than not having the discretionary income to meet one's basic needs of living - going without enough good quality food, being homeless or living in inadequate or unsafe housing,  or not having transportation.  It is also about the inability to participate more than marginally in community life --e.g., to meet the costs of school activities, sports, or celebrations.  Poverty is about the indignities of having to depend on the assistance of others without being able to reciprocate equally and the lack of power to make life choices, big and small, independently.

Who is Affected by Poverty?

Individuals - Poverty is a general risk factor which correlates with a number of problems, including:

  • decreases in the  average academic achievements
  • decreases in general health
  • Shortening of life spans
  • Increases stress related to lack of control over one's circumstances

Children raised in low-income families tend to score lower on assessments of health, language, cognitive development, social competencies and emotional well-being.  Educational difficulties place a youth at greater risk of social problems and poorer job opportunities.

Communities - High unemployment rates and subsistence on low incomes tend to drain community vitality.

The economic costs of poverty were dramatically demonstrated in the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which estimated that the costs associated with the economic marginalization of aboriginal people was $7.5 billion in 1996, compared with the esimated $1.7 billion for extra expenditures on remedial programs to cope with the resulting social problems.

Wide socio-economic inequality within a community undermines the sense of social solidarity that motivates community members to collaborate to find solutions to community problems.  A more egalitarian society that values all its members and gives its citizens good access to resources, minimizes the overall incidence of poverty and limits poverty's harmful effects.

taken from United Way Consultation on Targeted Investment In Anti-Poverty Programs


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