Poverty as a Social Problem

This free essay on poverty as a social problem looks at a grave problem that exists in America and in the world. It provides reasons why people are experiencing poverty as well as some solutions.


Literature review, poverty as a social problem: reflection, solutions to poverty as a social problem, social problems: poverty essay conclusion.

Society often perceives poverty as an individualistic issue, believing it is a consequence of bad decisions. That is, people themselves are responsible for the level of income and financial stability of households. However, the subject is much more complex as poverty also results from inadequate structuring of the country’s economy, distribution of goods, and other sectors, making it a social problem. Failure to build a system that would help citizens become financially stable results in various issues associated with crime levels, education, health care, and others. The government is the one that should work to solve them.

There are numerous studies and publications researching the reasons behind poverty. E. Royce (2019) tries to explain in his book how the existing economic system in the United States prevents citizens from reaching an adequate level of income and financial support. The main idea is that the current structure of how goods are distributed across the population does not benefit a large portion of it. Few rich individuals grow wealthier yearly, while millions struggle to find a stable job with a minimum wage.

The inequality created by the government’s failure to build a fair economic system results in a range of social problems. The idea of a poverty line as a measure of well-being has not changed much since the 1960s despite the obvious changes in consumption patterns (Royce, 2019). It is calculated as the sum required for purchasing essential items for living, which does not include modern commodities such as computers, mobile phones, and others.

As a result, low-income people become socially isolated since they do not possess things essential for the modern lifestyle, like social networks. They may be excluded from a community for not corresponding with the public image of active individuals. These mechanisms, combined with the dominant idea of the necessity to achieve success, push poor people away from social life. This factor comes together with the inability to receive proper health care and education services.

The literature also contains studies on how poverty affects the behavior of individuals. For instance, children exposed to life in a low-income household are more likely to develop adverse reactions in the future due to strain resulting from the inability to receive wished items (McFarland, 2017). When placed in a densely populated neighborhood, they may later cause legal problems, creating delinquent areas.

It is easy to predict the social issues that poor people face daily. They cannot receive proper health care services as they are usually costly. Moreover, many commercial organizations offering low-paid jobs traditionally based on customer service may prevent employees from taking sick leaves. As a result, people suffer from various illnesses without attending a hospital, fearing to lose a work placement.

Another issue is the inability of poor people to send their children to high-performing schools, which are expensive as a rule. This factor causes youth to continue living with the same income level as their parents since the absence of quality education prevents them from receiving a decent job. Moreover, children who cannot acquire goods valued by their peers are likely to adopt criminal behavior to achieve success since community norms and morals do not help this purpose.

Summarizing all the above said, it becomes evident that changing the existing economic structure on the governmental level is the most appropriate solution to the issue of poverty. There should be a strategy covering all the aspects affected by this problem. The goal is to increase the level of financial support for disadvantaged groups and give more opportunities for people to grow their income.

Firstly, the social sector should be transformed to meet the needs of all citizens. The government should increase the financing of schools so that all children will have access to quality education. Also, various programs should engage youth in activities after classes. Another step is to make health care affordable for everyone, and there should be no pressure on workers when they decide to take sick leaves.

Secondly, the structure of budget spending should be redesigned. It is evident that social support programs require much financing from taxes. One of the possible strategies is to make the government spend less on other sectors. Also, solving the issue of delinquent behavior among youth by advancing social support may cut costs on police functioning as there will be a lower need for services such as patrolling.

Poverty is a structural problem resulting from a country’s inadequate economic system. It creates various social issues associated with poor health care services, low-quality education, criminal activity, and others. Poverty is a complex subject that cannot be resolved shortly. However, one of the possible strategies is to provide better financial and social support for the population, which will create more opportunities for people to increase their income level.

McFarland, M. (2017). Poverty and problem behaviors across the early life course: The role of sensitive period exposure. Population Research & Policy Review , 36 (5), 739-760.

Royce, E. (2019). Poverty and power: The problem of structural inequality (3rd ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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Why poverty is not a personal choice, but a reflection of society

essay on poverty as a social problem

Research Investigator of Psychiatry, Public Health, and Poverty Solutions, University of Michigan

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Shervin Assari does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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essay on poverty as a social problem

As the Senate prepares to modify its version of the health care bill, now is a good time to back up and examine why we as a nation are so divided about providing health care, especially to the poor.

I believe one reason the United States is cutting spending on health insurance and safety nets that protect poor and marginalized people is because of American culture, which overemphasizes individual responsibility. Our culture does this to the point that it ignores the effect of root causes shaped by society and beyond the control of the individual. How laypeople define and attribute poverty may not be that much different from the way U.S. policymakers in the Senate see poverty.

As someone who studies poverty solutions and social and health inequalities, I am convinced by the academic literature that the biggest reason for poverty is how a society is structured. Without structural changes, it may be very difficult if not impossible to eliminate disparities and poverty.

Social structure

About 13.5 percent of Americans are living in poverty. Many of these people do not have insurance, and efforts to help them gain insurance, be it through Medicaid or private insurance, have been stymied. Medicaid provides insurance for the disabled, people in nursing homes and the poor.

Four states recently asked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for permission to require Medicaid recipients in their states who are not disabled or elderly to work.

This request is reflective of the fact that many Americans believe that poverty is, by and large, the result of laziness , immorality and irresponsibility.

In fact, poverty and other social miseries are in large part due to social structure , which is how society functions at a macro level. Some societal issues, such as racism, sexism and segregation, constantly cause disparities in education, employment and income for marginalized groups. The majority group naturally has a head start, relative to groups that deal with a wide range of societal barriers on a daily basis. This is what I mean by structural causes of poverty and inequality.

Poverty: Not just a state of mind

We have all heard that the poor and minorities need only make better choices – work hard, stay in school, get married, do not have children before they can afford them. If they did all this, they wouldn’t be poor.

Just a few weeks ago, Housing Secretary Ben Carson called poverty “ a state of mind .” At the same time, his budget to help low-income households could be cut by more than US$6 billion next year.

This is an example of a simplistic view toward the complex social phenomenon. It is minimizing the impact of a societal issue caused by structure – macro‐level labor market and societal conditions – on individuals’ behavior. Such claims also ignore a large body of sociological science.

American independence

essay on poverty as a social problem

Americans have one of the most independent cultures on Earth. A majority of Americans define people in terms of internal attributes such as choices , abilities, values, preferences, decisions and traits.

This is very different from interdependent cultures , such as eastern Asian countries where people are seen mainly in terms of their environment, context and relationships with others.

A direct consequence of independent mindsets and cognitive models is that one may ignore all the historical and environmental conditions, such as slavery, segregation and discrimination against women, that contribute to certain outcomes. When we ignore the historical context, it is easier to instead attribute an unfavorable outcome, such as poverty, to the person.

Views shaped by politics

Many Americans view poverty as an individual phenomenon and say that it’s primarily their own fault that people are poor. The alternative view is that poverty is a structural phenomenon. From this viewpoint, people are in poverty because they find themselves in holes in the economic system that deliver them inadequate income.

The fact is that people move in and out of poverty. Research has shown that 45 percent of poverty spells last no more than a year, 70 percent last no more than three years and only 12 percent stretch beyond a decade.

The Panel Study of Income Dynamics ( PSID ), a 50-year longitudinal study of 18,000 Americans, has shown that around four in 10 adults experience an entire year of poverty from the ages of 25 to 60. The last Survey of Income and Program Participation ( SIPP ), a longitudinal survey conducted by the U.S. Census, had about one-third of Americans in episodic poverty at some point in a three-year period, but just 3.5 percent in episodic poverty for all three years.

Why calling the poor ‘lazy’ is victim blaming

If one believes that poverty is related to historical and environmental events and not just to an individual, we should be careful about blaming the poor for their fates.

Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them. It is a common psychological and societal phenomenon. Victimology has shown that humans have a tendency to perceive victims at least partially responsible . This is true even in rape cases, where there is a considerable tendency to blame victims and is true particularly if the victim and perpetrator know each other.

I believe all our lives could be improved if we considered the structural influences as root causes of social problems such as poverty and inequality. Perhaps then, we could more easily agree on solutions.

  • Social mobility
  • Homelessness
  • Health disparities
  • Health gaps
  • US Senate health care bill
  • US health care reform

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5 Essays About Poverty Everyone Should Know

Poverty is one of the driving forces of inequality in the world. Between 1990-2015, much progress was made. The number of people living on less than $1.90 went from 36% to 10%. However, according to the World Bank , the COVID-19 pandemic represents a serious problem that disproportionately impacts the poor. Research released in February of 2020 shows that by 2030, up to ⅔ of the “global extreme poor” will be living in conflict-affected and fragile economies. Poverty will remain a major human rights issue for decades to come. Here are five essays about the issue that everyone should know:

“We need an economic bill of rights” –  Martin Luther King Jr.

The Guardian published an abridged version of this essay in 2018, which was originally released in Look magazine just after Dr. King was killed. In this piece, Dr. King explains why an economic bill of rights is necessary. He points out that while mass unemployment within the black community is a “social problem,” it’s a “depression” in the white community. An economic bill of rights would give a job to everyone who wants one and who can work. It would also give an income to those who can’t work. Dr. King affirms his commitment to non-violence. He’s fully aware that tensions are high. He quotes a spiritual, writing “timing is winding up.” Even while the nation progresses, poverty is getting worse.

This essay was reprinted and abridged in The Guardian in an arrangement with The Heirs to the Estate of Martin Luther King. Jr. The most visible representative of the Civil Rights Movement beginning in 1955, Dr. King was assassinated in 1968. His essays and speeches remain timely.

“How Poverty Can Follow Children Into Adulthood” – Priyanka Boghani

This article is from 2017, but it’s more relevant than ever because it was written when 2012 was the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. That’s no longer the case. In 2012, around ¼ American children were in poverty. Five years later, children were still more likely than adults to be poor. This is especially true for children of colour. Consequences of poverty include anxiety, hunger, and homelessness. This essay also looks at the long-term consequences that come from growing up in poverty. A child can develop health problems that affect them in adulthood. Poverty can also harm a child’s brain development. Being aware of how poverty affects children and follows them into adulthood is essential as the world deals with the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Priyanka Boghani is a journalist at PBS Frontline. She focuses on U.S. foreign policy, humanitarian crises, and conflicts in the Middle East. She also assists in managing Frontline’s social accounts.

“5 Reasons COVID-19 Will Impact the Fight to End Extreme Poverty” – Leah Rodriguez

For decades, the UN has attempted to end extreme poverty. In the face of the novel coronavirus outbreak, new challenges threaten the fight against poverty. In this essay, Dr. Natalie Linos, a Harvard social epidemiologist, urges the world to have a “social conversation” about how the disease impacts poverty and inequality. If nothing is done, it’s unlikely that the UN will meet its Global Goals by 2030. Poverty and COVID-19 intersect in five key ways. For one, low-income people are more vulnerable to disease. They also don’t have equal access to healthcare or job stability. This piece provides a clear, concise summary of why this outbreak is especially concerning for the global poor.

Leah Rodriguez’s writing at Global Citizen focuses on women, girls, water, and sanitation. She’s also worked as a web producer and homepage editor for New York Magazine’s The Cut.

“Climate apartheid”: World’s poor to suffer most from disasters” – Al Jazeera and news Agencies

The consequences of climate change are well-known to experts like Philip Alston, the special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. In 2019, he submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council sounding the alarm on how climate change will devastate the poor. While the wealthy will be able to pay their way out of devastation, the poor will not. This will end up creating a “climate apartheid.” Alston states that if climate change isn’t addressed, it will undo the last five decades of progress in poverty education, as well as global health and development .

“Nickel and Dimed: On (not) getting by in America” – Barbara Ehrenreich

In this excerpt from her book Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich describes her experience choosing to live undercover as an “unskilled worker” in the US. She wanted to investigate the impact the 1996 welfare reform act had on the working poor. Released in 2001, the events take place between the spring of 1998 and the summer of 2000. Ehrenreich decided to live in a town close to her “real life” and finds a place to live and a job. She has her eyes opened to the challenges and “special costs” of being poor. In 2019, The Guardian ranked the book 13th on their list of 100 best books of the 21st century.

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of 21 books and an activist. She’s worked as an award-winning columnist and essayist.

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About the author, emmaline soken-huberty.

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.

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2.3 Explaining Poverty

Learning objectives.

  • Describe the assumptions of the functionalist and conflict views of stratification and of poverty.
  • Explain the focus of symbolic interactionist work on poverty.
  • Understand the difference between the individualist and structural explanations of poverty.

Why does poverty exist, and why and how do poor people end up being poor? The sociological perspectives introduced in Chapter 1 “Understanding Social Problems” provide some possible answers to these questions through their attempt to explain why American society is stratified —that is, why it has a range of wealth ranging from the extremely wealthy to the extremely poor. We review what these perspectives say generally about social stratification (rankings of people based on wealth and other resources a society values) before turning to explanations focusing specifically on poverty.

In general, the functionalist perspective and conflict perspective both try to explain why social stratification exists and endures, while the symbolic interactionist perspective discusses the differences that stratification produces for everyday interaction. Table 2.2 “Theory Snapshot” summarizes these three approaches.

Table 2.2 Theory Snapshot

The Functionalist View

As discussed in Chapter 1 “Understanding Social Problems” , functionalist theory assumes that society’s structures and processes exist because they serve important functions for society’s stability and continuity. In line with this view, functionalist theorists in sociology assume that stratification exists because it also serves important functions for society. This explanation was developed more than sixty years ago by Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore (Davis & Moore, 1945) in the form of several logical assumptions that imply stratification is both necessary and inevitable. When applied to American society, their assumptions would be as follows:

  • Some jobs are more important than other jobs. For example, the job of a brain surgeon is more important than the job of shoe shining.
  • Some jobs require more skills and knowledge than other jobs. To stay with our example, it takes more skills and knowledge to perform brain surgery than to shine shoes.
  • Relatively few people have the ability to acquire the skills and knowledge that are needed to do these important, highly skilled jobs. Most of us would be able to do a decent job of shining shoes, but very few of us would be able to become brain surgeons.
  • To encourage the people with the skills and knowledge to do the important, highly skilled jobs, society must promise them higher incomes or other rewards. If this is true, some people automatically end up higher in society’s ranking system than others, and stratification is thus necessary and inevitable.

To illustrate their assumptions, say we have a society where shining shoes and doing brain surgery both give us incomes of $150,000 per year. (This example is very hypothetical, but please keep reading.) If you decide to shine shoes, you can begin making this money at age 16, but if you decide to become a brain surgeon, you will not start making this same amount until about age 35, as you must first go to college and medical school and then acquire several more years of medical training. While you have spent nineteen additional years beyond age 16 getting this education and training and taking out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, you could have spent those years shining shoes and making $150,000 a year, or $2.85 million overall. Which job would you choose?

An old man at the doctor's office

Functional theory argues that the promise of very high incomes is necessary to encourage talented people to pursue important careers such as surgery. If physicians and shoe shiners made the same high income, would enough people decide to become physicians?

Public Domain Images – CC0 public domain.

As this example suggests, many people might not choose to become brain surgeons unless considerable financial and other rewards awaited them. By extension, we might not have enough people filling society’s important jobs unless they know they will be similarly rewarded. If this is true, we must have stratification. And if we must have stratification, then that means some people will have much less money than other people. If stratification is inevitable, then, poverty is also inevitable. The functionalist view further implies that if people are poor, it is because they do not have the ability to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary for the important, high-paying jobs.

The functionalist view sounds very logical, but a few years after Davis and Moore published their theory, other sociologists pointed out some serious problems in their argument (Tumin, 1953; Wrong, 1959).

First, it is difficult to compare the importance of many types of jobs. For example, which is more important, doing brain surgery or mining coal? Although you might be tempted to answer with brain surgery, if no coal were mined then much of our society could not function. In another example, which job is more important, attorney or professor? (Be careful how you answer this one!)

Second, the functionalist explanation implies that the most important jobs have the highest incomes and the least important jobs the lowest incomes, but many examples, including the ones just mentioned, counter this view. Coal miners make much less money than physicians, and professors, for better or worse, earn much less on the average than lawyers. A professional athlete making millions of dollars a year earns many times the income of the president of the United States, but who is more important to the nation? Elementary school teachers do a very important job in our society, but their salaries are much lower than those of sports agents, advertising executives, and many other people whose jobs are far less essential.

Third, the functionalist view assumes that people move up the economic ladder based on their abilities, skills, knowledge, and, more generally, their merit. This implies that if they do not move up the ladder, they lack the necessary merit. However, this view ignores the fact that much of our stratification stems from lack of equal opportunity. As later chapters in this book discuss, because of their race, ethnicity, gender, and class standing at birth, some people have less opportunity than others to acquire the skills and training they need to fill the types of jobs addressed by the functionalist approach.

Finally, the functionalist explanation might make sense up to a point, but it does not justify the extremes of wealth and poverty found in the United States and other nations. Even if we do have to promise higher incomes to get enough people to become physicians, does that mean we also need the amount of poverty we have? Do CEOs of corporations really need to make millions of dollars per year to get enough qualified people to become CEOs? Do people take on a position as CEO or other high-paying job at least partly because of the challenge, working conditions, and other positive aspects they offer? The functionalist view does not answer these questions adequately.

One other line of functionalist thinking focuses more directly on poverty than generally on stratification. This particular functionalist view provocatively argues that poverty exists because it serves certain positive functions for our society. These functions include the following: (1) poor people do the work that other people do not want to do; (2) the programs that help poor people provide a lot of jobs for the people employed by the programs; (3) the poor purchase goods, such as day-old bread and used clothing, that other people do not wish to purchase, and thus extend the economic value of these goods; and (4) the poor provide jobs for doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals who may not be competent enough to be employed in positions catering to wealthier patients, clients, students, and so forth (Gans, 1972). Because poverty serves all these functions and more, according to this argument, the middle and upper classes have a vested interested in neglecting poverty to help ensure its continued existence.

The Conflict View

Abraham Lincoln

Because he was born in a log cabin and later became president, Abraham Lincoln’s life epitomizes the American Dream, which is the belief that people born into poverty can become successful through hard work. The popularity of this belief leads many Americans to blame poor people for their poverty.

US Library of Congress – public domain.

Conflict theory’s explanation of stratification draws on Karl Marx’s view of class societies and incorporates the critique of the functionalist view just discussed. Many different explanations grounded in conflict theory exist, but they all assume that stratification stems from a fundamental conflict between the needs and interests of the powerful, or “haves,” in society and those of the weak, or “have-nots” (Kerbo, 2012). The former take advantage of their position at the top of society to stay at the top, even if it means oppressing those at the bottom. At a minimum, they can heavily influence the law, the media, and other institutions in a way that maintains society’s class structure.

In general, conflict theory attributes stratification and thus poverty to lack of opportunity from discrimination and prejudice against the poor, women, and people of color. In this regard, it reflects one of the early critiques of the functionalist view that the previous section outlined. To reiterate an earlier point, several of the remaining chapters of this book discuss the various obstacles that make it difficult for the poor, women, and people of color in the United States to move up the socioeconomic ladder and to otherwise enjoy healthy and productive lives.

Symbolic Interactionism

Consistent with its micro orientation, symbolic interactionism tries to understand stratification and thus poverty by looking at people’s interaction and understandings in their daily lives. Unlike the functionalist and conflict views, it does not try to explain why we have stratification in the first place. Rather, it examines the differences that stratification makes for people’s lifestyles and their interaction with other people.

Many detailed, insightful sociological books on the lives of the urban and rural poor reflect the symbolic interactionist perspective (Anderson, 1999; C. M. Duncan, 2000; Liebow, 1993; Rank, 1994). These books focus on different people in different places, but they all make very clear that the poor often lead lives of quiet desperation and must find ways of coping with the fact of being poor. In these books, the consequences of poverty discussed later in this chapter acquire a human face, and readers learn in great detail what it is like to live in poverty on a daily basis.

Some classic journalistic accounts by authors not trained in the social sciences also present eloquent descriptions of poor people’s lives (Bagdikian, 1964; Harrington, 1962). Writing in this tradition, a newspaper columnist who grew up in poverty recently recalled, “I know the feel of thick calluses on the bottom of shoeless feet. I know the bite of the cold breeze that slithers through a drafty house. I know the weight of constant worry over not having enough to fill a belly or fight an illness…Poverty is brutal, consuming and unforgiving. It strikes at the soul” (Blow, 2011).

Another dirtied, poor, child on the streets

Sociological accounts of the poor provide a vivid portrait of what it is like to live in poverty on a daily basis.

Pixabay – CC0 public domain.

On a more lighthearted note, examples of the symbolic interactionist framework are also seen in the many literary works and films that portray the difficulties that the rich and poor have in interacting on the relatively few occasions when they do interact. For example, in the film Pretty Woman , Richard Gere plays a rich businessman who hires a prostitute, played by Julia Roberts, to accompany him to swank parties and other affairs. Roberts has to buy a new wardrobe and learn how to dine and behave in these social settings, and much of the film’s humor and poignancy come from her awkwardness in learning the lifestyle of the rich.

Specific Explanations of Poverty

The functionalist and conflict views focus broadly on social stratification but only indirectly on poverty. When poverty finally attracted national attention during the 1960s, scholars began to try specifically to understand why poor people become poor and remain poor. Two competing explanations developed, with the basic debate turning on whether poverty arises from problems either within the poor themselves or in the society in which they live (Rank, 2011). The first type of explanation follows logically from the functional theory of stratification and may be considered an individualistic explanation. The second type of explanation follows from conflict theory and is a structural explanation that focuses on problems in American society that produce poverty. Table 2.3 “Explanations of Poverty” summarizes these explanations.

Table 2.3 Explanations of Poverty

It is critical to determine which explanation makes more sense because, as sociologist Theresa C. Davidson (Davidson, 2009) observes, “beliefs about the causes of poverty shape attitudes toward the poor.” To be more precise, the particular explanation that people favor affects their view of government efforts to help the poor. Those who attribute poverty to problems in the larger society are much more likely than those who attribute it to deficiencies among the poor to believe that the government should do more to help the poor (Bradley & Cole, 2002). The explanation for poverty we favor presumably affects the amount of sympathy we have for the poor, and our sympathy, or lack of sympathy, in turn affects our views about the government’s role in helping the poor. With this backdrop in mind, what do the individualistic and structural explanations of poverty say?

Individualistic Explanation

According to the individualistic explanation , the poor have personal problems and deficiencies that are responsible for their poverty. In the past, the poor were thought to be biologically inferior, a view that has not entirely faded, but today the much more common belief is that they lack the ambition and motivation to work hard and to achieve success. According to survey evidence, the majority of Americans share this belief (Davidson, 2009). A more sophisticated version of this type of explanation is called the culture of poverty theory (Banfield, 1974; Lewis, 1966; Murray, 2012). According to this theory, the poor generally have beliefs and values that differ from those of the nonpoor and that doom them to continued poverty. For example, they are said to be impulsive and to live for the present rather than the future.

Regardless of which version one might hold, the individualistic explanation is a blaming-the-victim approach (see Chapter 1 “Understanding Social Problems” ). Critics say this explanation ignores discrimination and other problems in American society and exaggerates the degree to which the poor and nonpoor do in fact hold different values (Ehrenreich, 2012; Holland, 2011; Schmidt, 2012). Regarding the latter point, they note that poor employed adults work more hours per week than wealthier adults and that poor parents interviewed in surveys value education for their children at least as much as wealthier parents. These and other similarities in values and beliefs lead critics of the individualistic explanation to conclude that poor people’s poverty cannot reasonably be said to result from a culture of poverty.

Structural Explanation

According to the second, structural explanation , which is a blaming-the-system approach, US poverty stems from problems in American society that lead to a lack of equal opportunity and a lack of jobs. These problems include (a) racial, ethnic, gender, and age discrimination; (b) lack of good schooling and adequate health care; and (c) structural changes in the American economic system, such as the departure of manufacturing companies from American cities in the 1980s and 1990s that led to the loss of thousands of jobs. These problems help create a vicious cycle of poverty in which children of the poor are often fated to end up in poverty or near poverty themselves as adults.

As Rank (Rank, 2011) summarizes this view, “American poverty is largely the result of failings at the economic and political levels, rather than at the individual level…In contrast to [the individualistic] perspective, the basic problem lies in a shortage of viable opportunities for all Americans.” Rank points out that the US economy during the past few decades has created more low-paying and part-time jobs and jobs without benefits, meaning that Americans increasingly find themselves in jobs that barely lift them out of poverty, if at all. Sociologist Fred Block and colleagues share this critique of the individualistic perspective: “Most of our policies incorrectly assume that people can avoid or overcome poverty through hard work alone. Yet this assumption ignores the realities of our failing urban schools, increasing employment insecurities, and the lack of affordable housing, health care, and child care. It ignores the fact that the American Dream is rapidly becoming unattainable for an increasing number of Americans, whether employed or not” (Block, et. al., 2006).

Most sociologists favor the structural explanation. As later chapters in this book document, racial and ethnic discrimination, lack of adequate schooling and health care, and other problems make it difficult to rise out of poverty. On the other hand, some ethnographic research supports the individualistic explanation by showing that the poor do have certain values and follow certain practices that augment their plight (Small, et. al., 2010). For example, the poor have higher rates of cigarette smoking (34 percent of people with annual incomes between $6,000 and $11,999 smoke, compared to only 13 percent of those with incomes $90,000 or greater [Goszkowski, 2008]), which helps cause them to have more serious health problems.

Adopting an integrated perspective, some researchers say these values and practices are ultimately the result of poverty itself (Small et, al., 2010). These scholars concede a culture of poverty does exist, but they also say it exists because it helps the poor cope daily with the structural effects of being poor. If these effects lead to a culture of poverty, they add, poverty then becomes self-perpetuating. If poverty is both cultural and structural in origin, these scholars say, efforts to improve the lives of people in the “other America” must involve increased structural opportunities for the poor and changes in some of their values and practices.

Key Takeaways

  • According to the functionalist view, stratification is a necessary and inevitable consequence of the need to use the promise of financial reward to encourage talented people to pursue important jobs and careers.
  • According to conflict theory, stratification results from lack of opportunity and discrimination against the poor and people of color.
  • According to symbolic interactionism, social class affects how people interact in everyday life and how they view certain aspects of the social world .
  • The individualistic view attributes poverty to individual failings of poor people themselves, while the structural view attributes poverty to problems in the larger society.

For Your Review

  • In explaining poverty in the United States, which view, individualist or structural, makes more sense to you? Why?
  • Suppose you could wave a magic wand and invent a society where everyone had about the same income no matter which job he or she performed. Do you think it would be difficult to persuade enough people to become physicians or to pursue other important careers? Explain your answer.

Anderson, E. (1999). Code of the street: Decency, violence, and the moral life of the inner city . New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

Bagdikian, B. H. (1964). In the midst of plenty: The poor in America . Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Banfield, E. C. (1974). The unheavenly city revisited . Boston, MA: Little, Brown.

Block, F., Korteweg, A. C., & Woodward, K. (2006). The compassion gap in American poverty policy. Contexts, 5 (2), 14–20.

Blow, C. M. (2011, June 25). Them that’s not shall lose. New York Times , p. A19.

Bradley, C., & Cole, D. J. (2002). Causal attributions and the significance of self-efficacy in predicting solutions to poverty. Sociological Focus, 35 , 381–396.

Davidson, T. C. (2009). Attributions for poverty among college students: The impact of service-learning and religiosity. College Student Journal, 43 , 136–144.

Davis, K., & Moore, W. (1945). Some principles of stratification. American Sociological Review, 10 , 242–249.

Duncan, C. M. (2000). Worlds apart: Why poverty persists in rural America . New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Ehrenreich, B. (2012, March 15). What “other America”? Salon.com . Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/2012/03/15/the_truth_about_the_poor/ .

Gans, H. J. (1972). The positive functions of poverty. American Journal of Sociology, 78 , 275–289.

Goszkowski, R. (2008). Among Americans, smoking decreases as income increases. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/105550/among-americans-smoking-decreases-income-increases.aspx .

Harrington, M. (1962). The other America: Poverty in the United States . New York, NY: Macmillan.

Holland, J. (2011, July 29). Debunking the big lie right-wingers use to justify black poverty and unemployment. AlterNet . Retrieved from http://www.alternet.org/story/151830/debunking_the_big_lie_right-wingers_use_to_justify_black_poverty _and_unemployment_?page=entire .

Kerbo, H. R. (2012). Social stratification and inequality . New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Lewis, O. (1966). The culture of poverty. Scientific American, 113 , 19–25.

Liebow, E. (1993). Tell them who I am: The lives of homeless women . New York, NY: Free Press.

Murray, C. (2012). Coming apart: The state of white America, 1960–2010 . New York, NY: Crown Forum.

Rank, M. R. (1994). Living on the edge: The realities of welfare in America . New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Rank, M. R. (2011). Rethinking American poverty. Contexts, 10 (Spring), 16–21.

Schmidt, P. (2012, February 12). Charles Murray, author of the “Bell Curve,” steps back into the ring. The Chronicle of Higher Education . Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Charles-Murray-Author-of-The/130722/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en .

Small, M. L., Harding, D. J., & Lamont, M. (2010). Reconsidering culture and poverty. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 629 (May), 6–27.

Tumin, M. M. (1953). Some principles of stratification: A critical analysis. American Sociological Review, 18 , 387–393.

Wrong, D. H. (1959). The functional theory of stratification: Some neglected considerations. American Sociological Review, 24 , 772–782.

Social Problems Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Poverty Essay for Students and Children

500+ words essay on poverty essay.

“Poverty is the worst form of violence”. – Mahatma Gandhi.

poverty essay

How Poverty is Measured?

For measuring poverty United nations have devised two measures of poverty – Absolute & relative poverty.  Absolute poverty is used to measure poverty in developing countries like India. Relative poverty is used to measure poverty in developed countries like the USA. In absolute poverty, a line based on the minimum level of income has been created & is called a poverty line.  If per day income of a family is below this level, then it is poor or below the poverty line. If per day income of a family is above this level, then it is non-poor or above the poverty line. In India, the new poverty line is  Rs 32 in rural areas and Rs 47 in urban areas.

Get the huge list of more than 500 Essay Topics and Ideas

Causes of Poverty

According to the Noble prize winner South African leader, Nelson Mandela – “Poverty is not natural, it is manmade”. The above statement is true as the causes of poverty are generally man-made. There are various causes of poverty but the most important is population. Rising population is putting the burden on the resources & budget of countries. Governments are finding difficult to provide food, shelter & employment to the rising population.

The other causes are- lack of education, war, natural disaster, lack of employment, lack of infrastructure, political instability, etc. For instance- lack of employment opportunities makes a person jobless & he is not able to earn enough to fulfill the basic necessities of his family & becomes poor. Lack of education compels a person for less paying jobs & it makes him poorer. Lack of infrastructure means there are no industries, banks, etc. in a country resulting in lack of employment opportunities. Natural disasters like flood, earthquake also contribute to poverty.

In some countries, especially African countries like Somalia, a long period of civil war has made poverty widespread. This is because all the resources & money is being spent in war instead of public welfare. Countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc. are prone to natural disasters like cyclone, etc. These disasters occur every year causing poverty to rise.

Ill Effects of Poverty

Poverty affects the life of a poor family. A poor person is not able to take proper food & nutrition &his capacity to work reduces. Reduced capacity to work further reduces his income, making him poorer. Children from poor family never get proper schooling & proper nutrition. They have to work to support their family & this destroys their childhood. Some of them may also involve in crimes like theft, murder, robbery, etc. A poor person remains uneducated & is forced to live under unhygienic conditions in slums. There are no proper sanitation & drinking water facility in slums & he falls ill often &  his health deteriorates. A poor person generally dies an early death. So, all social evils are related to poverty.

Government Schemes to Remove Poverty

The government of India also took several measures to eradicate poverty from India. Some of them are – creating employment opportunities , controlling population, etc. In India, about 60% of the population is still dependent on agriculture for its livelihood. Government has taken certain measures to promote agriculture in India. The government constructed certain dams & canals in our country to provide easy availability of water for irrigation. Government has also taken steps for the cheap availability of seeds & farming equipment to promote agriculture. Government is also promoting farming of cash crops like cotton, instead of food crops. In cities, the government is promoting industrialization to create more jobs. Government has also opened  ‘Ration shops’. Other measures include providing free & compulsory education for children up to 14 years of age, scholarship to deserving students from a poor background, providing subsidized houses to poor people, etc.

Poverty is a social evil, we can also contribute to control it. For example- we can simply donate old clothes to poor people, we can also sponsor the education of a poor child or we can utilize our free time by teaching poor students. Remember before wasting food, somebody is still sleeping hungry.

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Study reveals significant discrepancies in common poverty measurement approaches

Researchers found almost no agreement among four widely used poverty measurement approaches. The findings suggest that the choice of a measurement approach can lead to very different conclusions about who qualifies for poverty alleviation programs and policies, and how much these efforts achieve.

Christine Pu sitting in discussion with three other people outside

Stanford researcher Christine Pu interviews residents of rural Uganda to understand local perceptions and definitions of poverty. (Image credit: Courtesy of Christine Pu)

Methods commonly used to measure poverty can lead to vastly different conclusions about who actually lives in poverty, according to a new Stanford University-led study . Based on household surveys in sub-Saharan Africa, the first-of-its-kind analysis published Feb. 5 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences underscores the importance of accurately defining and measuring poverty. Its findings could help inform how governments, nonprofit organizations, and international development agencies allocate resources and evaluate the effectiveness of poverty-alleviation policies around the world.

“They say you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” said study co-author Eric Lambin, the George and Setsuko Ishiyama Provostial Professor in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment .

“In our study, we find how one chooses to measure poverty can completely change the extent to which programs and policies reach vulnerable populations,” said study lead author Christine Pu , a PhD student in environmental engineering at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.

Comparing definitions

Governments around the world want to support households living in poverty, but it’s not always easy to determine which households need help. For example, two U.S. families of the same size could be classified as poor – and eligible for public support programs like food assistance and subsidized utility services – because their annual income is less than the federal $31,200 poverty guideline. In actuality, the families might have dramatically different overall costs or assets. For example, one might own their home and two cars, while the other might rent their home and depend on public transportation.

The study examined four widely used poverty measurement approaches. Each metric is based on different priorities ranging from reported assets, such as appliances, to self-defined well-being milestones, such as being able to send children to school. Working with colleagues in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Uganda, the Stanford researchers surveyed 16,150 households. Surprisingly, the research revealed almost no agreement in how these approaches ranked households by poverty status. The lack of agreement persisted even among households classified in the bottom 20% in terms of poverty.

Even after controlling for geographic variability, the study found weak correlations between the measurement approaches, indicating that the discrepancies were not simply due to regional differences. The differences in relative rankings were not small either. On average, households’ poverty rankings differed by 25 percentage points. In other words, a household ranked in the 25th percentile by one measurement might be ranked as the most impoverished household or as the median household by another measurement.

“Organizations that adopt a measurement approach without reflecting on how it fits their conception of poverty are, at best, rolling the dice about creating classifications of households that work in alignment with their mission and objectives,” the researchers write. “At worst, these organizations are adopting methodologies that may be wholly inappropriate for their poverty alleviation goals.”

Choosing wisely

One striking example of this conceptual misalignment is the U.S. government’s Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) Program wealth index. The index was designed to explain disparities in health outcomes. However, it is widely used to represent a household’s poverty status. This application can lead to counterintuitive rankings of households. For example, whereas most rural development specialists would consider livestock ownership to be a sign of family wealth, in Ghana and Ethiopia the value of a household’s DHS wealth index goes down for every additional livestock unit they own.

Given the widespread influence of the DHS wealth index, this measurement problem is being propagated and amplified through many applications and decision-making processes. The issue is not unique to the DHS wealth index, but emblematic of a larger problem embedded in many indices and measurement tools.

Overall, the findings suggest that the choice of a measurement approach can lead to very different conclusions about who qualifies for poverty alleviation programs and policies, and how much these efforts achieve. The authors argue that organizations should carefully consider their definition of poverty and select measurement approaches that align with their specific objectives.

Additional Stanford co-authors include Jenna Davis , associate dean for integrative initiatives in institutes and international partnerships, professor of civil and environmental engineering, Higgins-Magid Senior Fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, and director of the Stanford Program on Water, Health & Development . Additional co-authors are from the International Growth Research and Evaluation Center in Uganda, Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana.

The study was funded by the Stanford King Center on Global Development , the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Natural Science and Engineering Council of Canada, the Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowship , and the Charles H. Leavell Fellowship.

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Nicholas Kristof

We Americans Neglect Our Children

A young person slumped over a lunch table in a school cafeteria.

By Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist

Individually, we adore and pamper our children. We shuttle them from soccer practice to music lessons and then organize their play dates with meticulous fanaticism.

Yet collectively, we mistreat America’s children, especially by the standards of other wealthy countries. When we’re formulating policies for children as a whole rather than coddling our own little angels, we fall scandalously short. We prize children in the abstract but as a society tend to ignore their needs. Children are more likely to go hungry or live in poverty in America than in most of our peer countries, and they are also much more likely to die young — because of drugs, guns, accidents and an inequitable health care system.

If the United States simply had the same mortality rates for young people as the rest of the rich world, we would annually save the lives of at least 40,000 Americans age 19 and under, according to Steven Woolf , a population health expert at Virginia Commonwealth University. In other words, an American child dies about every 13 minutes because we don’t do as good a job as our peers in protecting kids.

And it’s getting worse. An American child’s chances of reaching adulthood have fallen in recent years, Woolf told me.

This election year, these are issues that should be central in the battles between Democrats and Republicans. They’re not, for children don’t vote and are political orphans.

The consequences are felt not just by low-income children at the margins. A country as a whole can’t thrive when so many are left behind. What distinguished the United States for more than a century and helped it become the world’s leading economy was strong mass education that included widespread high school and college attendance, even as some European countries did better with elite education. But over the past 50 years, we’ve faltered in supporting and educating children overall as other countries have moved ahead.

We’ve tried to fix problems at the back end, with the juvenile justice system or criminal justice system or with those alerts to look out for human traffickers. But we have entire failed structures, like foster care. Fewer than 5 percent of young people who’ve spent time in foster care graduate from a four-year college. Several studies suggest that up to 60 percent of trafficking survivors have been in the system. Yet when was the last time a politician was asked how to fix foster care?

I’ve been thinking about this because I recently participated in the Summit on America’s Kids and Families hosted by Common Sense Media . James Steyer, the group’s founder, wants to push children onto the local, state and national agenda this year — maybe a million child march on Washington? — so that political candidates are forced to answer questions about our indifference to the well-being of children.

In the closing session at the summit, a few of us talked about what a pro-child agenda might look like. Here are my suggestions:

An early child care program modeled after the one that exists in the U.S. military. If our armed forces can operate a child care program with fees based on ability to pay, then the rest of the country can as well. A government-supported early childhood program rescues parents and kids alike. Roughly one child in six is living with a parent who misused drugs in the last year, and some of these children can find a lifeline in a high-quality program like Educare that also coaches parents. Other rich nations spend an average of about 29 times as much on child care per toddler as the United States.

An expanded refundable child tax credit to cut child poverty. Most other wealthy countries have introduced a monthly child allowance to lift children out of poverty, and the United States followed in 2021 with the refundable child tax credit. This was a huge success that helped slash child poverty almost in half — one of the most successful policies of my lifetime. And then Republican opposition caused the program to expire at the end of 2021, and child poverty has soared again.

A new regulatory body to oversee technology companies and new media, just as the Federal Communications Commission oversees old media. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado has championed this idea, and it has become urgent as TikTok and artificial intelligence play a growing presence in children’s lives. Young people already face a crisis in mental health that appears correlated to the spread of smartphones and social media. I don’t want to overregulate, but tech companies need oversight as they monetize our children.

Improvements in K-14 education to get every child literate, numerate, graduating from high school and, where possible, into at least community college, the military or technical training. American children are particularly incompetent at math in ways that hold our entire country back. If even Mississippi , with unconscionable child poverty, can focus on reading and significantly raise educational outcomes, then no state has an excuse for letting students fail.

The best metric for a society’s future is how well it nurtures its next generation. So this election year, let’s look beyond the political horse race and culture war to grill candidates on their policies toward children — and thus our country’s future.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , X and Threads .

Nicholas Kristof became a columnist for The Times Opinion desk in 2001. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes, for his coverage of China and of the genocide in Darfur. @ NickKristof

Poverty as a Social Problem

Poverty is a social issue facing people in every country across the world. Poverty refers to a relative concept that is used to describe individuals in a society who lack the essentials taken for granted by most people. In Australia, people living in relative poverty are those whose living standards fall below an overall community standard. In most cases, people living below the poverty line in Australia have low-income levels; they lack the opportunities as well as resources such as education, housing, health care, employment opportunities, recreation, and food. Individual circumstances and major inequalities built-in society are the main causes of poverty. Poverty as well as other social miseries are mostly caused by  social structures . Societal issues such as segregation, racism, cause disparities in employment, education as well as income for marginalized people.

Gender  inequality is the most pervasive and oldest form of inequality in the globe. Women are denied their voices and make women unequal to men, from the household, national and international levels. Though there has been some progress towards changing this narrative in the modern world, women have not achieved economic equality hence women being more likely to live in poverty compared to men. Moreover, poverty is considered higher among black and minority  ethnic  groups compared to the white population. People from some ethnic groups get less pay than individuals from other groups with the same experience and qualifications.

In addition, poverty  stereotypes  have negative effects on people’s performance across the world. Economic scarcity is one of the vital factors of poverty that makes poor people more vulnerable to poverty experience and life pressure. Also, low-income earners are more likely to experience poverty and stress.

Even though it is possible to moderate poverty by use of social transfers, it is not possible to mitigate the processes, which cause poverty under  capitalism . The main effect of capitalism causes competition between states and spreads poverty among developing countries because of the individual interests of private firms rather than their workers’ needs. Also,  globalization  reduces income inequality hence leading to poverty reduction. When states open up to trade, they grow faster and the living standards of their people tend to increase.

Poverty leads to  social changes  as poor individuals are more likely to experience different issues such as a divorce as well as family conflicts. Moreover, poor people are more prone to health problems. Children from poor families are less likely to get a quality education or go to college level, hence being more likely to engage in criminal activities. Moreover, issues such as poor sanitation, illness as well as hunger are the causes and also effects of poverty. Poor people are less likely to have adequate food and clean water.

In conclusion, sociology can provide a significant tool for thinking about poverty as a social issue that affects many people across the globe. Thinking sociologically can help people to better understand poverty and disentangle it from a range of associated concepts and pejorative discussions regarding a variety of social issues.

Germov, J & Poole, M (eds) 2019,  Public Sociology: An introduction to Australian society , 4th edn, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest.

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K-12 students learned a lot last year, but they're still missing too much school

Cory Turner - Square

Cory Turner

Headshot of Sequoia Carrillo

Sequoia Carrillo

essay on poverty as a social problem

From 2022-2023, chronic absenteeism declined in 33 of the 39 states AEI looked at. But it was still a persistent problem: In a handful of places, including Nevada, Washington, D.C., Michigan, New Mexico and Oregon, roughly 1 in 3 students – or more – were chronically absent. LA Johnson/NPR hide caption

From 2022-2023, chronic absenteeism declined in 33 of the 39 states AEI looked at. But it was still a persistent problem: In a handful of places, including Nevada, Washington, D.C., Michigan, New Mexico and Oregon, roughly 1 in 3 students – or more – were chronically absent.

It's going to take aggressive interventions to repair the pandemic's destructive impact on kids' schooling.

That's the takeaway of two big new studies that look at how America's K-12 students are doing. There's some good news in this new research, to be sure – but there's still a lot of work to do on both student achievement and absenteeism. Here's what to know:

1. Students are starting to make up for missed learning

From spring 2022 to spring 2023, students made important learning gains, making up for about one-third of the learning they had missed in math and a quarter of the learning they had missed in reading during the pandemic.

That's according to the newly updated Education Recovery Scorecard , a co-production of Harvard University's Center for Education Policy Research and The Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University.

6 things we've learned about how the pandemic disrupted learning

6 things we've learned about how the pandemic disrupted learning

The report says, "Students learned 117 percent in math and 108 percent in reading of what they would typically have learned in a pre-pandemic school year."

In an interview with NPR's All Things Considered , Stanford professor Sean Reardon said that's surprisingly good news: "A third or a quarter might not sound like a lot, but you have to realize the losses from 2019 to 2022 were historically large."

When the same team of researchers did a similar review last year, they found that, by spring of 2022, the average third- through eighth-grader had missed half a grade level in math and a third of a grade level in reading. So, the fact that students are now making up ground is a good sign.

These results do come with a few caveats, including that the researchers were only able to review data and draw their conclusions from 30 states this year.

2. Despite that progress, very few states are back to pre-pandemic learning levels

The Harvard and Stanford study of student learning includes one sobering sentence: "Alabama is the only state where average student achievement exceeds pre-pandemic levels in math." And average achievement in reading has surpassed pre-pandemic levels in just three of the states they studied: Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi. Every other state for which they had data has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels in math and reading.

"Many schools made strong gains last year, but most districts are still working hard just to reach pre-pandemic achievement levels," said Harvard's Thomas Kane, one of the learning study's co-authors.

3. Chronic absenteeism also improved in many places ... slightly

The rate of chronic absenteeism – the percentage of students who miss 10% or more of a school year – declined from 2022 to 2023. That's according to research by Nat Malkus at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute (AEI). He found chronic absenteeism declined in 33 of the 39 states he studied.

Yes, "the differences were relatively small," Malkus writes, but it's improvement nonetheless: "the average chronic absenteeism rate across these states in 2023 was 26 percent, down from 28 percent for the same 39 states in 2022."

Glass half-full: Things aren't getting worse.

4. But, again, chronic absenteeism is still high

Malkus found chronic absenteeism was at 26% in 2023. Before the pandemic, in 2019, those same states reported a rate of 15%. That adds some painful context to the "good news" two-point decline in absenteeism from 2022 to 2023. Sure, it's down, but it's still so much higher than it was and should be.

Think of it this way: In 2023, roughly 1 student out of 4 was still chronically absent across the school year.

In a handful of places, including Nevada, Washington, D.C., Michigan, New Mexico and Oregon, roughly 1 in 3 students – or more – were chronically absent. That's a crisis.

Research shows a strong connection between absenteeism and all kinds of negative consequences for students, including an increased likelihood of dropping out of school.

Chronic absenteeism also hurts the students who don't miss school. That's because, as the learning study's authors point out, when absent students return, they require extra attention and "make it hard for teachers to keep the whole class moving."

5. Poverty matters (as always)

Both the learning and the chronic absenteeism studies capture the headwinds that constantly buffet children in poverty.

"No one wants poor children to foot the bill for the pandemic," said Harvard's Kane, "but that is the path that most states are on."

On learning: Reardon told NPR "the pandemic really exacerbated inequality between students in high-poverty and low-poverty districts and students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds."

In 2023, students' academic recovery was relatively strong across groups, which is good – but it means "the inequality that was widened during the pandemic hasn't gotten smaller, and in some places it's actually gotten larger," Reardon told NPR.

In fact, the report says, "in most states, achievement gaps between rich and poor districts are even wider now than they were before the pandemic." The learning study singles out Massachusetts and Michigan as the states where those gaps in math and reading achievement widened the most between poor and non-poor students.

Similarly, Malkus, at AEI, found that, between 2019 and 2022, rates of chronic absenteeism rose much more in high-poverty districts (up from 20% to 37%) than in low-poverty districts (up from 12% to 23%).

"Chronic absenteeism has increased the most for disadvantaged students," Malkus writes, "those who also experienced the greatest learning losses during the pandemic and can least afford the harms that come with chronic absenteeism."

6. Families must play an important role in learning recovery

Both studies acknowledge that families must play an important role in helping students – and schools – find a healthy, post-pandemic normal. The problem is, surveys show parents and guardians often underestimate the pandemic's toll on their children's learning . "Parents cannot advocate effectively for their children's future if they are misinformed," says the learning study.

To combat this, the learning researchers propose that districts be required to inform parents if their child is below grade-level in math or English. Those parents could then enroll their students in summer learning, tutoring and after-school programs, all of which have benefitted from federal COVID relief dollars. That funding is set to expire this fall, and some of these learning recovery opportunities may dry up, so the clock is ticking.

7. There's a "culture problem" around chronic absenteeism

Reducing chronic absenteeism, Malkus says, will also depend on families.

"This is a culture problem," Malkus tells NPR. "And in schools and in communities, culture eats policy for breakfast every day."

By "culture problem," Malkus is talking about how families perceive the importance of daily attendance relative to other challenges in their lives. He says some parents seem more inclined now to let their students miss school for various reasons, perhaps not realizing the links between absenteeism and negative, downstream consequences.

"Look, the patterns and routines of going to school were disrupted and to some degree eroded during the pandemic," Malkus says. "And I don't think we've had a decisive turn back that we need to have, to turn this kind of behavior around, and it's going to stay with students until that culture changes."

How do you do that? Malkus points to some low-cost options — like texting or email campaigns to increase parental involvement and encourage kids to get back in school – but says these, alone, aren't "up to the scale of what we're facing now."

Higher-cost options for schools to consider could include door-knocking campaigns, sending staff on student home-visits and requiring that families of chronically absent students meet in-person with school staff.

The learning study goes one step further: "Elected officials, employers, and community leaders should launch public awareness campaigns and other initiatives to lower student absenteeism." Because, after all, students can't make up for the learning they missed during the pandemic if they don't consistently attend school now.

What both of these studies make clear is there is no one solution that will solve these problems, and success will require further investment, aggressive intervention and patience.

Malkus says, even the high-cost, high-return options will likely only drive down chronic absenteeism by about four percentage points. A big win, he says, "but four percentage points against 26% isn't going to get us where we need to go."

Edited by: Nicole Cohen Visual design and development by: LA Johnson and Aly Hurt

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The biggest social issues to watch in 2024, legislatures across the nation are confronting several social issues including crime, drug use, immigration and poverty. these issues will continue to hold resonance, of course, in the november elections..

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2024 Commemorative Event on the Occasion of the…

20 February 2024

In support of the Global Coalition for Social Justice, a ground-breaking initiative aimed at intensifying collective efforts to urgently address social justice deficits and accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Decent Work Agenda, the 2024 commemorative event will highlight the crucial role of international collaboration and solidarity in addressing social justice within the framework of multilateralism.

Moreover, it will be a timely opportunity to emphasize the prioritization of social justice at key intergovernmental milestones of the United Nations this year. This includes the Fourth International Conference on Small Island Developing States, the Third United Nations Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries, the Summit of the Future, as well as preparations for the World Social Summit.

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Poverty: A Sociological Imagination Perspective Autobiography Essay

Personal explanation, sociological imagination, data/statistics.

Psychology helps people understand their self-esteem, politics entails governance and polling matters, while biology relates to life issues. However, sociological imagination by Mills provides scope for knowing the complex social world that supersedes our ordinary imagination and experiences. Although Mills’ concept was not initially recognized, it is applied in the modern society to provide knowledge on various issues affecting the humanity. The theory forbids individuals from regarding their personal experience as their own creation but seeing the problems as those created by the society. In other words, if one individual is suffering, then there are many others undergoing the same all over the world. For instance, I have been raised in a poor family, but sociological imagination discourages me from only focusing on the negative side of poverty, but instead encourages me to take the challenge with an open mind. This essay will apply C. W. Mills’ sociological imagination concept to explain the issue of poverty problem I have been experiencing.

I was born 26 years ago in Princeton, a small city in Missouri. Although it is small in size and population, it is rich in geographical beauty. I was raised in a nuclear family, where my mum was a housewife, and my father worked in a local hog farm as the overall manager. Although I considered myself lucky, since I had both my parents living together in an environment where single parents raise most children, life could not be considered easy. Poverty was the norm of the day since my dad was only paid a small amount of money, yet he had four of us to support. He was always overwhelmed, and at some point in life, he had to seek a second job to increase his financial status.

My elder brother and I joined a local public school, which was considered an education center for the low-class citizens. Moreover, having Christmas gifts and birthday celebrations was a luxury. In most cases, we even forgot our birthdates because it was just a typical day. Our misfortune blossomed when my father was diagnosed with stage III stomach cancer. With my dad bedridden and unable to pay his usual bills, my brother and I had to look for an income. When my dad died on July 31, 2016, I realized what poverty meant.

Smith and I became employed as casual laborers in a small grocery store. Although the state’s law forbidden us from working, we had to labor more hours to earn a living and pay our bills. My mother still had to stay at home and take care of our two young sisters. Despite the challenges, we remained focused and continued with our education. We knew that only academic excellence could raise our financial status and attained high grades throughout our high school terms. As a result, my brother joined a prestigious university in the country, and he is set to graduate this year as a doctor. I am also lucky to be enrolled in one of the good colleges in the city.

Society classifies individuals into different categories, such as the poor, the middle class, and the wealthy. Some people might argue that some may rise to better income level from poverty, but in reality, nobody chooses their economic status. Although most individuals are able to work hard to earn more, it is impossible to choose whether to be poor or rich. It is the society which determines a persons’ present and future financial status.

Sociological imagination helps the public to distinguish the social levels from personal circumstances. Once an individual is able to differentiate the two, the or she can make personal decisions which can serve him best due to the larger social forces people face. Being that I was raised in a poor home does not mean that I will stay in poverty. Instead of focusing on looking for money, I changed my perception and decided to put all my effort into education. Although schooling was not instantly paying, it was a long-term investment that was promising in my perception. The social troubles impacted my success by helping me to find solace in studying. In other words, I became empowered to understanding what reduces poverty levels. Although social imagination is sometimes misunderstood due to providing excuses to people, every person should account for their actions.

Conflict theory best describes my initial situation by illustrating that society is full of competition, and people have to contest for the limited available resources. According to Keirns et al. (2018), the world is composed of people from different social classes who have to compete for the few available opportunities. Institutions such as education, religion, and government have to keep more resources, thus promoting unequal social structure. Individuals who obtain more resources use their influence and power to maintain their social class, while those who are allocated little possessions have to struggle to find their way to the wealthy class.

In this regard, the level of poverty that I experienced was caused by the state. The government made education expensive when my parents were still schooling. They could not afford the school fees of the good institutes, and eventually, they dropped out. As a result, they only got employed in jobs which were not well-paid. However, this motivated me to work hard to surpass the level of education my parents achieved.

Numerous people are experiencing high levels of poverty across the United States. Based on the study conducted by Dotson and Foley (2016), students who perform well in class originate from families who can cater to their needs. Besides, the black people are more exposed to poverty compared to other races. A survey performed in 2018/2019 showed that poverty levels decreased to 10.5% from the initial 11.8% witnessed in 2018 (Semega et al., 2020). Despite the previous high levels of poverty, current research shows that the gap between the poor and the rich decreases, and many people can cater to their needs.

In conclusion, poverty is a social issue that has affected many generations. Conflict theory illustrates the case as a societal problem that avails limited resources to people, giving them no option but to compete. However, there is no fairground for competition as the rich use their power and authority to manipulate the wealthy institutions to protect their interests. Concurrently, the lower class struggles to climb the social level. Sociological imagination offers hope to the less fortunate by encouraging them to understand that their situation is not their creation but a societal problem. One must not take advantage of the Mills’ concept to explain their position, but instead employ it positively to overturn their present misfortunes. Hence, poverty should not prevent a person from achieving the set goals

Dotson, L., & Foley, V. (2016). Middle grades student achievement and poverty levels: Implications for teacher preparation. Journal of Learning in Higher Education , 12 (2), 33-44.

Keirns, N., Strayer, E., Griffiths, H., Cody-Rydzewski, S., Scaramuzzo, G., Sadler, T., Vvain, s., Bry, J. & Jones, F. (2018). Introduction to sociology . OpenStax. Web.

Semega, J., Kollar, M., Shrider, E. A., & Creamer, J. (2020 ). Income and poverty in the United States: 2019 . United States Bureau. Web.

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