Poverty has many causes. While some factors exacerbate poverty, there are five predominant causes of poverty: social inequality, conflict and political instabilities, education, debt and environmental conditions. Here is a closer examination of three of these causes.
The United Nations Social Policy and Development Division reports that “inequalities in income distribution and access to productive resources, basic social services, opportunities, markets, and information have been on the rise worldwide, often causing and exacerbating poverty.” Countries where inequality is rampant display poor social indicators for human development, insecurity and anxiety. Inequality keeps the poor from moving out of their socioeconomic status.
Inequality limits access to opportunities that can provide the means to escape poverty. In a speech by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Kahn explains that Adam Smith, often considered the founder of modern economics, “recognized clearly that a poor distribution of wealth could undermine the free market system.” An example of this is the former apartheid government in South Africa.
Apartheid laws assign rights and space to individuals on the basis of race. In South Africa this meant that while one group was persecuted and forced into poverty, the other group was given access to opportunities that allowed them to advance economically. This increased the gap between economic classes and the amount of people in poverty.
Environmental degradation is the decline in the quality of the natural environment through its atmosphere, land, oceans and lakes. Indigenous groups are among the worsetaffected by such degradation. These groups often depend on the environment to survive and easily fall into poverty when that environment is harmed. A major cause of environmental degradation is climate change.
One of the outcomes of climate change is hunger. The changing climate is responsible for the destruction of harvests and other resources critical to survival. Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University explains, “crop yields have detectably changed. As time goes on the poor countries that are in the warmer and drier parts of the planet will feel the crop yield decreases early.” In Oxfam’s report Suffering The Science: Climate Change, People, and Poverty, the organization warns that “Without immediate action 50 years of development gains in poor countries will be permanently lost.”
Recent U.N. reports on climate change noted that “for the first time” that climate change is a threat to human security. The UN notes that the increased migration and the decrease in food are conditions that lead to conflict. The reports warn also that unless the issue is addressed, “nobody would be immune to climate change.” The report reads, “Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence.” Environmental degradation can not only result in poverty, but can also lead to war.
Lack of Education
Education has lifted people out of poverty and empowered communities to grow economically. A lack of education could maintain or create poverty. Senior Fellow of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Jared Bernstein explains, “economists may disagree a lot on policy, but we all agree on the ‘education premium’—the earnings boost associated with more education.”
According to the Network for international policies and cooperation in education and training, a main priority for poverty reduction is primary education. In developed countries almost all children have access to primary education, while in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa approximately 40 percent of children do not attend primary school due to poverty and a lack of access to education. Many people living in poverty in undeveloped countries must give up an education in order to make “a minimal living.” Furthermore, many families cannot afford school fees to send their children to school. This limits skill development and opportunities to escape poverty and create generational poverty.
There are many situations that lead to poverty. As we understand the causes of poverty, we can eradicate it more strategically. These are only three of many causes that must be understood to successfully meet the goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. We created poverty, so we can eliminate it as well.
– Christopher Kolezynski