Defining poverty

Living in poverty is a generalization. There are different types of poverty just as there are differences in other social-economic classes. Learn the four different types and how you can help move people forward and out of poverty.

Have you ever gone to a store and the person in front of you in the check-out line uses a bridge card and you found yourself judging what that person bought and feeling frustrated or irritated with what they chose to purchase? People living in poverty are like every American consumer. They want to fit in, they want to feel they belong.

Marketing affects people who received financial assistance even more than those who don’t, because their world is in constant motion and turmoil. Mother Teresa stated “not belonging feels worse than hunger.” Sometimes having that cell phone or box of sugar coated cereal gets a person through the day. Author, Donna Beegal states in her book See Poverty…Be the Difference that “living in poverty is like living in a war zone.”

The word “poverty” is used to describe many different life situations.

There are four different types of poverty based on life experiences. These experiences shape expectations, knowledge, confidence and opportunities for receiving an education.

Generational poverty: Generally, workers of the land and do not personally know anyone who benefited from education, never knew anyone who moved up or was respected in a job. Highly mobile, have high family illiteracy and their focus is on making it through the day.

Working-class poverty: Working, but barely able to pay for basic needs, renters opposed to owners, live pay check to pay check, and the focus is on making it two weeks or through the month. Poverty is seen as a personal deficiency.

Immigrant poverty: Have little or no resources, face language and culture barriers, seem to have a strong sense of self compared to working or generational poverty and often do better than those born into poverty in America. Poverty is viewed as a system problem rather than a personal problem.

Situational poverty: Grows up in a stable environment with basic needs met and more, attends school regularly, has health care, family vacations, surrounded by educated people with living wage jobs and is generally able to make it back to middle-class. They do not internalize poverty as personal deficiency and sometimes do not recognize the advantages of growing up middle-class. They can be a harsh judge of those in poverty.

People living in poverty receive messages from our culture that they do not belong and something is wrong with them. If you are find yourself judging, do some personal research on the topic of poverty, collaborate and strengthen partnerships with people, organizations such as Michigan State University Extension, and businesses that can help create opportunities within your community, or at least personally reach out and build a meaningful relationship with a person living in poverty.

For more on this topic read Four myths of poverty, Poverty competency – a necessary skill to have or visit

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