What is the definition of poverty?
The most widely held and understood definition of absolute poverty measures poverty strictly in economic terms — earning less than $1.90 a day. By this measurement, anyone lacking enough financial resources falls below the poverty line and fails to meet a minimum standard of living. But to be poverty-stricken is more complex than not having enough money or having a low income.
To define poverty, the World Bank has been studying and measuring the global poverty level — its causes and its effects on poor people — for decades.
Similar to how the definition of food security has been updated over time, the world’s understanding of extreme poverty has also evolved. The fullest definition of poverty now goes beyond just the amount of money a person or family earns. It expands upon the traditional economic definition of poverty to define poverty holistically.
"Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time. Poverty is losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom."
This expanded poverty definition recognizes that to be poverty-stricken is to be afflicted and overwhelmed by need in any or all areas of life. Impoverishment encompasses poor living conditions, nonrepresentation, anxiety from feeling powerless, exclusion from the social structure, and an inability to meet basic needs because food, clean drinking water, proper sanitation, education, health care and other social services are inaccessible. This poverty threshold starts with fear for the future and broadens to include dependence, oppression and even exploitation.
As the threshold to define "poor" expanded, the World Bank developed indicators to assess the causes of poverty, its non-income dimensions and its contributors. The indicator levels include:
- Access to social services.
- Social exclusion.
- Access to social capital.
How does the Bible define poverty?
How does the conventional view and definition of poverty align with how the Bible defines poverty and describes the poor?
The term "poor" in Scripture also primarily refers to an economic condition. There are 178 uses of the word "poor" in Scripture, and with a few exceptions, the term means economic or material poverty. However, the condition of poverty is also associated with oppression, isolation and injustice.