Do You Know the Definition of Poverty?

Although poverty is an international issue, there is no internationally agreed-upon definition of poverty.

The most common definition of poverty is the World Bank’s threshold:  living at $2 a day, and its definition of extreme poverty at $1.25 a day. This figure that was created by averaging the poverty line in the world’s 15 poorest countries. These are definitions of absolute poverty, in which a certain amount of income is set, and anyone making below that income is considered poor. Under these definitions, around 3 billion people live in poverty, and 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty.

However, poverty can also be defined in relative terms. In many countries, poverty is simply defined by the threshold of income for the bottom 10 percent of the population, or taking into account cost of living into account when setting a poverty line.

Both of these definitions, however, deal almost exclusively with income and consumption, and ignore the social and political aspects of poverty. The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) contends that there are three perspectives which need to be taken into account when conceptualizing poverty: the income perspective indicates that a person is poor only if his or her income is below the country’s poverty line; the basic needs includes the need for the provision by a community of the basic social services necessary to prevent individuals from falling into poverty; and finally, the empowerment perspective suggests that poverty signify a lack of some basic capability to function.

Something to consider is that although the global definition of extreme poverty is $1.25 dollars a day, the US sets its poverty line at $11,490 of income per year, which comes out to roughly $30 a day. If we held the whole world to that standard, almost everyone would be in poverty; 80 percent of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day.

Poverty undermines basic political, economic, social, and cultural rights. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” As a country with the economic capabilities to lift everyone in the world out of extreme poverty (it would cost around $30 billion), the United States should be the leaders in poverty eradication efforts. Not only this, but it is important to remember how much lower the standard o poverty is set for the rest of the world, and how most in the developed world could never consider living on $1.25 a day.

– Martin Drake

Sources: UNESCO,, The Economist
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