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Social Sci LibreTexts

9.6A: Poverty

Poverty is the condition of not having access to material resources, income, or wealth.

 

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

 

Assess how poverty relates to social mobility

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Key Points

 

  • The United States officially defines poverty using the poverty line. The poverty line is set at an income level that is three times the approximate cost of a subsistence level food budget.
  • Poverty can also refer to the lack of opportunity to improve one’s standard of living (or poor life chances ).
  • The term ” near poverty ” refers to earnings that are above the poverty line, but by no more than 25%.
  • Social mobility describes a person’s flexibility to change their economic status.
  • If there is a high level of social mobility, it is relatively easy for people to escape poverty; if social mobility is low, it is very challenging for people to escape poverty.

 

Key Terms

 

  • The Poverty Line: The threshold of poverty, below which one’s income does not cover necessities.
  • Near Poverty: The classification “near poverty” describes a demographic group in the United States that earns 25% above the poverty line.

Poverty describes the state of not having access to material resources, wealth, or income. The United States officially defines poverty using the poverty line. The poverty line is set at an income level that is three times the approximate cost of a subsistence level food budget. This definition has been in use in the United States to track demographic changes and allocate welfare aid since the 1960s.

“Near poverty” is the term for an income level that is just above the poverty line; it refers to incomes that are no more than 25% above the poverty line.

“Relative poverty” refers to economic disadvantage compared to wealthier members of society, whereas ” absolute poverty ” refers to a family (or an individual) with an income so low that they cannot afford basic necessities of survival, such as food and shelter.

Poverty may correspond not only to lack of resources, but to the lack of opportunity to improve one’s standard of living and acquire resources. “Life chances” is a term used to describe someone’s access to marketplace resources—essentially, how likely it is in their environment that they might be able to find employment or have a social safety net. Someone who is living in poverty but has high life chances may be able to improve their economic standing, but someone with low life chances will likely have a consistently low standard of living. The term for a person’s ability to change their economic status in a society is known as “social mobility. ”

If there is a high level of social mobility, it is relatively easy for people to leave poverty. Easy access to higher education and prevalence of well-paying jobs contribute to social mobility. While some factors that contribute to poverty are the result of individual choices, such as dropping out of school or committing a crime, other factors affect poverty that are beyond individual control. In the United States, minorities and women are more likely to be living in poverty.