What is poverty (in a rich country)

I reflect a lot about poverty for the time being. First, because lack of money is an ongoing worry and limitation. Second, because there is a ‘white trash’ feel to much of the local area and especially the nearby towns. We are surrounded by it. Third, because my new job as research interviewer brings me into the homes of people who have a much deeper degree of poverty than I have ever known.

What is poverty? It is measured as assets and purchasing power, but it looks like a style of fashion (around here: the hoodie), a gait, a driving style, a tendency to scarring and tattoos, a type of entertainment preferences, a certain diet, a way family members walk together, look at each other and call to each other. A way to furniture a home. Poverty isn’t just lack of money; it is culture.

My poverty is driven by unemployment/underemployment. My poverty culture is of a one-person world where money doesn’t exist and time can’t be counted.


Scratch and damages open sign


Illustration from openclipart.com

6 thoughts on “What is poverty (in a rich country)

  1. Shelley

    Obviously, there is true poverty in the world. But, most of what is termed “poverty” is a misnomer. Poverty is truly a culture and a mind-set, i.e. I can’t afford that, that cost too much, etc. Here in the US, people confuse poverty with failure to live within their means.


    1. Mados

      Thank you for your input Shelley. I don’t mean that poverty is just a culture, but that it tends to be culturally integrated. What I mean is that poverty is complex and dialectic and deeply integrated in people’s mind and development (often), and that money is just one aspect of it.


    2. Mados

      As for the US: I haven’t been there but had ‘American Studies’, and another subject named ‘Area Studies: Globalisation seen from an American perspective’ (or something like that) in uni and learned + have heard anecdotes from people travelling to the US indicating that poverty in the US is real poverty, not just relative poverty.

      Poverty defined as: lack of, or unstable access to, basic necessities such as a home, food, health services and education. As I understand it, there is not free health care and education in the US (of a reasonable or good standard), and some people who loose their jobs may also loose their home and health insurance and live on the street.

      Scandinavia (where I come from) and Australia (where I live) have proper social safety nets, free medical services and free public education systems. In my home country, a high education doesn’t cost anything and is of a very high standard. The State actually pays your living costs while you study (it is like a low salary), even if you choose to study abroad. There are conditions and time limits e.t.c., but anyone can get a good education regardless how poor they are. So that is not the same kind of situation as real poverty.

      People can still be relatively poor even when they have a proper home, have food, their kids go to school and they can go to the doctor if they get ill. They can be stuck in a relative poverty loop where their kids don’t learn to think or believe in ways that could make them excel professionally, don’t acquire mental skills for advanced problem solving, don’t acquire the ability to earn a decent living and get stuck in social circles that don’t encourage or allow kids to grow.


    3. Mados

      Also: poverty isn’t always a culture. People can be culturally, socially, emotionally and spiritually rich (in other words wise) but struggle financially. And they can be rich but culturally, socially, emotionally and spiritually bleak. (I think there are many examples of that from many countries). I prefer the first kind of people:-)


  2. A Quiet Week

    I like your insight in this post. I was born and raised in New Mexico, one of America’s poorest states. 30 minutes away is Mexico. When you wrote,

    “Poverty isn’t just lack of money; it is culture.”

    I can see exactly what you mean–an acute observation. This is also an insightful observation:

    “My poverty culture is of a one-person world where money doesn’t exist and time can’t be counted.”

    Very poignant and poetic.


    1. Mados

      Thank you for your perspective. Lori:-)

      I imagine the poverty culture of New Mexico would be distinct and obvious and very visible!

      I haven’t seen much of Australia, only a few major cities (90% of the population or so, live in the big cities) and a few road trips within New South Wales but I have been told that the outback is entirely different and that life in remote aboriginal villages can resemble life in third world countries…. just due to the sheer distance to civilisation and lack of financial resources.



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