What is Poverty?

Poverty is a complex problem. It has many causes, and it has many faces. Poverty in the United States is different than poverty in low- and middle-income countries.

The poverty threshold for a family of four in the United States is just over $26,000 a year. Families in the world’s poorest countries — families living in extreme poverty — have to obtain the basic necessities to survive with less than $2.15 a day.

According to the World Bank, nearly 10 percent of the world's population live in extreme poverty, below the $2.15 per day poverty line.

This economic definition of poverty encompasses a standard of living filled with deprivation, malnutrition, poor sanitation, lack of access to safe drinking water, education, health care and other social services, and no survival safety net.

But poverty encompasses more than this. Poverty is more than unemployment, poor living standards or a low income, just like a bicycle is more than a means of transportation.

A bicycle is the sole mechanical source of mobility for hundreds of millions of people, and it's a source for social, economic and environmental change. Bicycles bring education, health care and employment into peoples’ lives by making schools, doctors, food and jobs accessible.

Cycling to gain fitness offers health benefits and fosters friendships, and riding a bike has a positive impact on climate and the environment. The bicycle can be a key component of transformational life change for people, and it presents a way for us to discuss the different types and characteristics of poverty.

An orange bicycle

Types of Poverty — Studying the Spokes

Imagine that the hub of a bicycle wheel represents a young girl living in a poor household in a rural area in the Caribbean or a young man with a disability living in a community of urban poor where the poverty rate exceeds 95 percent. Regardless of the scene, the hub of the bicycle wheel represents inequality and a life in which survival is a daily accomplishment.

Reaching out from the hub are the wheel's spokes. They represent our basic human needs and the different characteristics of poverty.

The first spoke represents a type of poverty that is easily overlooked — social poverty.

Social poverty includes people groups that are undervalued and have few rights. Oftentimes, social poverty is easiest to spot when we look for people who have been silenced—they have no say and their rights are minimized. They are often oppressed and thought of as insignificant.

The second spoke and poverty type is educational poverty.

Hundreds of millions of children lack education and that creates lack of options. Education equals knowledge, skills, and training, so when education is not available, families get trapped in the cycle of poverty for generations. Steady employment and income can be difficult to find and a person’s basic needs can’t be met. Lack of education also makes children more vulnerable to exploitation or abuse.

The third spoke symbolizes health poverty.

Health poverty may sound strange, but when a person is unhealthy it is difficult to hold down a job and develop positive relationships. Physical and emotional health is the basis for our ability to work, play and be in relationship with others.

Spiritual poverty is the next spoke in our bicycle wheel.

Spiritual poverty can be summed up by the word “hopelessness.” Oftentimes, people in poverty struggle with feelings of worthlessness and despair. Children are especially vulnerable to these emotions and the message of despair poverty sends.

The next spoke in the wheel of poverty is environmental poverty.

Physical surroundings play a large role in a person’s wellbeing. Environmental factors include climate, housing options, land availability, water supply, insects that carry disease, water-born illnesses, weather, drought, and much more.

Finally, the last type of poverty is the more traditionally understood type of poverty — economic poverty.

Half the world lives with a household income of less than $2.50 a day. This level of poverty is the equal of slavery. People need an income level which allows them to purchase what they cannot make or grow.

Nearly 10%
live in extreme poverty

live in Africa

live in rural areas

Source:World Bank and The Brookings Institution

Characteristics of Poverty — Studying the Solution

Dr. Wess Stafford, President Emeritus of Compassion International, offers a view of poverty that further explores these six types of poverty. He doesn’t limit himself to simple definitions though. Instead, he describes the marred identity and disempowerment the poor experience as being caused by false messages:

“At its very core, poverty is a mindset that goes far beyond the tragic circumstances. It is the cruel, destructive message that gets whispered into the ears of millions by the enemy Satan himself: “Give up! You don’t matter. Nobody cares about you. Look around you: Things are terrible. Always have been, always will be. Think back. Your grandfather was a failure. Your parents couldn’t protect or take care of you. Now it’s your turn. You, too, will fail. So just give up!”

These false messages are most destructive to children. That’s why we are committed to getting at the root of absolute poverty and to addressing all of the effects of poverty on children by targeting each type of poverty through our holistic model for child development.

  • Social Poverty – We value and cherish the children in our programs. Each one is given the opportunity to flourish and grow. We share this value with the governments and communities in which we work.

  • Educational Poverty – We make it a priority that children in our program are enrolled and participating in school. We expand the amount of caring adults who support each child’s learning. We provide educational training, tutoring, and mentoring through child development centers run by our frontline church partners. Parents and caregivers are also given literacy training and other helpful courses.

  • Health Poverty – Children and families are taught the importance of hygiene and provided with regular medical care. When serious medical concerns arise, we provide medical assistance.

  • Spiritual Poverty – Our church partners teach that God loves each child and each child was created with a divine purpose. We live out our faith and give love to children of all faiths, cultures and races without imposing any conversion requirements on those we help.

  • Environmental Poverty – We work with families to ensure that environmental conditions are safe, and that they don't make extreme poverty inescapable.

  • Economic Poverty – Our centers around the world provide vocational training and other income generation training to help children create lives filled with economic opportunity.

Children in Poverty – Help One

Children living in poverty around the world are longing for hope, and we offer a practical way to help the children who need it most — child sponsorship.

By sponsoring a child you provide life-changing help to that child: medical care, nourishing food, access to clean water, education opportunities, support from caring adults, and more.

Think back to the bicycle wheel and the spokes representing the various types of poverty. That wheel also has a rim and that rim represents a life fulfilled.

Our mission, to release children from poverty in Jesus' name, brings children living in poverty from the hub of this "poverty wheel" to the rim.

No matter how you define the various types and characteristics of poverty, or what you view the causes of poverty to be, you can have a part in solving the problem.

You can have a positive influence on the life of child fighting to survive. By sponsoring a child and supporting our holistic model for child development, you address all six types of poverty attempting to keep children vulnerable, powerless and afraid. Sponsor a child today!

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