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What Are the Different Types of Poverty?

Kenya Wolff, PhD

November 12, 2021

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Question

What are the different types of poverty?

Answer

There are multiple types of poverty.

  • Situational poverty 
  • Generational poverty 
  • Absolute poverty
  • Relative poverty 
  • Urban poverty 
  • Rural poverty

Situational poverty is very common and something you or someone you know may have experienced. There may have been a job loss, a divorce, or maybe a health crisis that caused you to be economically unstable. We've seen a lot of families who have experienced this during the pandemic, specifically families who are in service and tourist industries. There are so many families that were living paycheck to paycheck then had an event like a job loss and became so much more economically unstable.

Generational poverty is defined as being part of a family that has been living in poverty for more than two generations. This is different because if you have grown up in poverty, there are certain thought processes, ways of being, and ways of knowing that will differ from if you have been brought up say in the middle-class. What we see is you are constantly in survival mode and rather than being able to plan for your future and problem solve, oftentimes you are living in a toxic stress kind of environment where you are in survival mode. This can shape a generation and become a cycle that is very hard to get out of.

Absolute poverty is defined as an absolute lack of resources, including food insecurity. The United States has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in developing nations. This also includes homelessness and lack of access to healthcare.

Relative poverty is defined as living at about 50% or below the average income. You may not be wealthy and might be living paycheck to paycheck, but you have food on the table. However, in comparison to others around you, you are certainly struggling. Relative poverty usually is not as detrimental to the health and brain development of a young child, but the emotional aspects can take a toll.

The final two types of poverty are urban poverty and rural poverty. I live in Mississippi, for example, and rural poverty looks a little different than it does in urban areas. In rural poverty, one of the main issues is there isn't access to high-speed Internet. When the pandemic took children out of schools, I would see parents lined up at schools picking up giant packets of worksheets for four and five-year-olds. If you were in an urban center, you might be meeting on Zoom with your teacher online instead of doing the worksheet packets. People in rural areas are often isolated and lack access to technology, childcare, and education. In urban areas, you may have more structural issues such as housing and safety issues, overcrowding, and sanitation. 

It's really important for you as a teacher or someone who works with children to really understand the different types of poverty. One of the things that I try to do when I talk to people, especially those who haven't experienced poverty, is first and foremost to explain that poverty is about the lack of resources. Many children who grow up in poverty are very much loved and the families have many strengths.

This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course, Teaching, Caring, and Advocating for Children and Families Living in Povertypresented by Kenya Wolff, PhD.


kenya wolff

Kenya Wolff, PhD

Dr. Kenya Wolff is an Assistant Professor in Early Childhood Education and the Co-Director for the Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning at the University of Mississippi. Her research focuses on a holistic approach, including work on the benefits of yoga, mindfulness and anti-bias curriculum. She is also the co-founder of Growing Healthy Minds, Bodies and Communities which provides curriculum and resources to schools on mindfulness, yoga, gardening, anti-bias, and social emotional development for young children.


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