A working definition of Poverty

I’ve recently started reading the book A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne. I’d highly recommend it to anyone (but particularly those who work with or live in poverty situations).
I’ll be posting a lot of my thoughts on what I read in the book over the next few days or weeks (it helps me to process information). Today, I want to talk about a definition for poverty.
Commonly when we talk about poverty we usually focus on finances. The national poverty line is measured solely on the income of an individual or family and takes nothing else into account. The first thing Dr. Payne does in her book is lays out a working definition of poverty: “The extent to which an individual does without resources.” This is a clear and simple definition which she goes on to further explain by defining resources as the following:

Financial: Having the money to purchase good and services.

Emotional: Being able to choose and control emotional responses, particularly to negative situations, without engaging in self-destructive behavior.

Mental: Having the mental abilities and acquired skills (reading, writing, computing) to deal with daily life.

Spiritual: Believing in divine purpose and guidance.

Physical: Having the physical health and mobility.

Support Systems: Having friends, family and backup resources available to access in times of need. These are external resources.

Relationships/ Role Models: Having frequent access to adults who are appropriate, who are nurturing to the the child, and who do not engage in self-destructive behavior.

Knowledge of the Hidden Rules: Knowing the unspoken cues and habits of a group.

Already, she has done such a crucial thing in expanding ones understanding of poverty and how it functions. I often point to the lack of support and relationships the poor have to help meet their needs. More specifically I usually point to the support structure that I have in place (family primarily) that would keep me from being out on the streets no matter what good or bad decisions I make.
Hidden rules are another section that speaks volumes to understanding the barriers one has to overcoming poverty. My dad works with people who are chronicly-unemployed and he talks about the need to teach some of the “hidden rules” of being and staying employed. These are things many take for granted and others simply never learned growing up.

This is an excellent book, and I got all that from just the first page!
Lot’s more to come.

2 thoughts on “A working definition of Poverty”

  1. I think that is brilliant. I love that she went through an defined what poverty means in all those different areas. Very holistic and you can tell that she’s put a ton of thought into it. Her definitions are much better than what I could have come up with. Some of them seemed strange when I first read them, but I read them again and they really seem to have a lot of wisdom. Awesome Ariah, thanks for sharing!

  2. That books sounds fascinating, and I agree with you and Zach that this is a very holistic understanding of poverty. Once you started the list I was waiting to see if the author included something like Support Systems and Hidden Rules. Keep me posted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.