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“”Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.
Poverty is the inability to provide for one's well-being — that is, being too poor to obtain adequate food, shelter, clothing, or health care.
Poverty can be caused by external conditions that the individual is powerless to alter or improve, including political oppression, periods of war and their aftermaths, natural disasters, disease, economic policy, or mental illness. Alternatively, it can be caused by a wide range of poor personal decisions; this form of poverty is usually the result of poor education. Both kinds of poverty receive political attention; liberals like to focus on the first, and conservatives like to focus on the second. Unfortunately, it's impossible to really separate them.
There are generally two categories of poverty:
Relative poverty is judged by local standards. I.e., someone with a medium sized house, a decent car and a good wage may not be poor, per se, but they would be relatively poor if they lived in an estate full of millionaires and all the nearby shops were suited to those super rich. Individual countries will have their own official "poverty lines" (often called "bread lines") which people can live above or below.
Absolute poverty is a worldwide standard, usually set by the United Nations and used to describe the worst conditions on the planet. This level is often applied where it is impossible for people to achieve any standard of living that is worth living. This applies to parts of Africa that are affected by drought and famine and many slum areas of cities in developing countries. It is often defined as earning less than US$1 or $2 a day.
Plans to eliminate absolute poverty
As, outside of an egalitarian utopia, it is impossible to fully eliminate relative poverty, the UN and others have pushed hard for the elimination of absolute poverty. The Millennium Development Goals are perhaps the most ambitious idea for doing this, calling for a dramatic increase in aid to sub-Saharan Africa and other impoverished parts of the world.
On the other hand, many have noted that the biggest reductions in absolute poverty have come about due to countries (notably China, Taiwan, South Korea, and other Asian states) opening their economies to the world market. Amartya Sen has proposed setting up small-scale lending organizations (called "microlending") in order to bring the ability to generate wealth to the poor of the world, since the governments are often too weak to act as the Asian states have.
A combination of both plans is probably best for helping not only combat poverty, but also make it sustainable for the long haul.
Although not exactly rare or a new thing, a recent trend in the more "intellectual" sectors of the US far-right has been to openly deny the existence of poverty based on the fact that the poor have access to things like TV, computers, and transportation. The above definition of "relative poverty" is important here, primarily because of the lack of acknowledgment of such a thing by the aforementioned denialists.
Regarding the specific "luxury items" that poverty denialists point to as evidence that the poor aren't really poor, many of those items have been around long enough that pre-owned units are often readily available at thrift stores and garage sales at greatly reduced prices. For example, among the items that are often listed as "proof" that the poor aren't really poor are refrigerators, color TVs, and air conditioning units.
- The Bible on the Poor; or, Why God is a liberal: aka, the parts of the Bible that fundamentalist and prosperity gospel Christians ignore.
- "Death in the Dust": a John Steinbeck essay from the 1930s on what he witnessed in California squatters camps while he was conducting research for The Grapes of Wrath. (Reprinted in The Guardian as part of the 100th anniversary of Steinbeck's birth.)
- Articles on the Cracked website
- "5 Insane Laws Written Specifically to Harass Poor People"
- "The 4 Types of People on Welfare Nobody Talks About"
- "7 Things No One Tells You About Being Homeless"
- "5 Facts About Being Poor (From a Rich Person)"
- "The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor" - (19 January 2012)
- "The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor (Part 2)" - (3 July 2014)
- "4 Legal Loopholes That Screw You When You're Poor"
- "5 Maddening Things Poor People Can't Get Out From Under" (It seems that the original title - "5 Soul-Crushing Realities of Being Poor" - was too depressing even for Cracked.)
- "5 Reasons Money Can Buy Happiness"
- "7 Things You Only Find Out as a Lawyer to the Poor"
- "I Investigated Fox News' Poverty Claims (On My Mom)"
- "This Is Why Poor People's Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense" -- Huffington Post blog post
- "Invisible Child: Dasani's Homeless Life" -- New York Times five-part series (first installment with links to the next four installments)
- "15 Things Poor People Do That The Rich Don’t" -- YouTube video from the Alux.com channel, which is aimed at viewers whose only goal in life is to be rich One Percenters. (See the Herman Melville quote above.) Includes many examples of correlation does not imply causation assumptions. (I.e., maybe you're not poor because you watch a lot of TV; maybe you watch a lot of TV because you work two part-time jobs every day and you're exhausted.) However, RW fans might enjoy the bonus (16th) point at the end.
- "Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge. "Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again. "And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?" (C. Dickens, 1843)
- The Heritage Foundation's discussions of their most recent study (from July, 2011) can be found here, here, and here. Some of the rebuttals of the study can be found at the Coalition For the Homeless website here and at Media Matters' Political Correction website here, with The Daily Show piling on some snark of its own here.