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10 Common Root Causes of Poverty

Poverty is a global problem. According to the World Bank in 2015, over 700 million people were living on less than $1.90 a day. While that represents a milestone (in 1990, it was over one billion) that’s still way too many people. That number also includes extreme poverty that is defined by the UN as “a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services.”

What causes poverty in the first place? Here are ten root causes:

#1. Lack of good jobs/job growth

This is the first reason a lot of people think about. When you don’t have a good job, you aren’t getting a good income. In many countries, traditional jobs like farming are disappearing. The Democratic Republic of Congo is a good example, where most of the population live in rural areas stripped of natural resources from years of colonialism. Half of the DRC live below the poverty line. Even in nations like the United States where many people do have jobs, those jobs aren’t paying enough. According to the Economic Policy Institute, large groups of workers with full-time, year-round employment are still below federal poverty guidelines.

#2: Lack of good education

The second root cause of poverty is a lack of education. Poverty is a cycle and without education, people aren’t able to better their situations. According to UNESCO, over 170 million people could be free of extreme poverty if they only had basic reading skills. However, in many areas of the world, people aren’t getting educated. The reasons vary. Often times, families need kids to work, there aren’t schools close by, or girls aren’t being educated because of sexism and discrimination.

#3: Warfare/conflict

Conflict has a huge impact on poverty. In times of war, everything stops. Productivity suffers as well as a country’s GDP. It’s very difficult to get things going again as foreign businesses and countries won’t want to invest. For families and individuals, war and conflict can make it impossible to stay in one place. It’s also very common for women to become the primary breadwinners, and they deal with many barriers like sexual violence and discrimination.

#4: Weather/climate change

According to the World Bank, climate change has the power to impoverish 100 million people in the next decade or so. We know climate change causes drought, floods, and severe storms, and that can take down successful countries while pulling poor ones down even further. Recovering is extremely difficult, as well, especially for agricultural communities where they barely have enough to feed themselves, let alone prepare for the next harvest year.

#5: Social injustice

Whether it’s gender discrimination, racism, or other forms of social injustice, poverty follows. People who are victims of social injustice struggle with getting a good education, the right job opportunities, and access to resources that can lift them out of poverty. The United Nations Social Policy and Development Division identifies “inequalities in income distribution and access to productive resources, basic social services, opportunities” and more as a cause for poverty. Groups like women, religious minorities, and racial minorities are the most vulnerable.

#6: Lack of food and water

Without access to basic essentials like food and water, it’s impossible to get out of poverty’s cycle. Everything a person does will be about getting food and water. They can’t save any money because it all goes towards their daily needs. When there isn’t enough sustenance, they won’t have the energy to work. They are also way more likely to get sick, which makes their financial situation even worse.

#7: Lack of infrastructure

Infrastructure includes roads, bridges, the internet, public transport, and more. When a community or families are isolated, they have to spend a lot of money, time, and energy getting to places. Without good roads, traveling takes forever. Without public transport, it may be next to impossible to get a good job or even to the store. Infrastructure connects people to the services and resources they need to better their financial and life situation, and without it, things don’t get better.

#8: Lack of government support

To combat many of the issues we’ve described, the government needs to be involved. However, many governments are either unable or unwilling to serve the poor. This might mean failing to provide (or cutting) social welfare programs, redirecting funds away from those who need it, failing to build good infrastructure, or actively persecuting the population. If a government fails to meet the needs of the poor, the poor will most likely stay that way.

#9: Lack of good healthcare

People who are poor are more likely to suffer from bad health, and those with bad health are more likely to be poor. This is because healthcare is often too expensive or inaccessible to those who need it. Without money for medicine and treatment, the poor have to make really tough decisions, and usually essentials like food take priority. People who are sick get sicker, and then they can’t work, which makes the situation even more dire. If people do seek treatment, the cost often ruins their finances. It’s a vicious cycle.

#10: High costs

The last root of poverty is simple: stuff costs too much. Even the basics can be too expensive. According to stats from the World Food Programme, the poorest households in the world are spending 60-80% of their incomes on food. Food prices are also very unpredictable in certain areas, so when they rise, the poor have to keep cutting out other essentials. Housing is another essential that is rising. Global house markets have been climbing, according to the International Monetary Fund. Income growth, however, has not.

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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