Economic Justice

The Cycle of Poverty

Breaking the cycle of poverty isn't easy

What is the cycle of poverty? In general, it is the trend where a family becomes impoverished for at least three generations. There have been many different approaches to trying to break the cycle of poverty, and the efforts to free families from being trapped by poverty are noble. but it’s a hard cycle to break. It’s important to understand how the cycle of poverty works so we know how to take action to combat it.

Characteristics of the poverty cycle

Those who continue in the cycle of poverty have no ancestors who are capable of passing down the intellectual, cultural, and social resources that are needed to break free from the pattern. For example, many of those living in the poverty cycle are the children and grandchildren of those who had children young, and thus did not go on to finish high school or college. There are shorter lifespans of individuals living in the poverty cycle. Those who are poor often lack the resources to get out of poverty.

Sometimes, when we aid developing countries, the poverty cycle spreads. When it’s applied to nations, the poverty cycle becomes known as the development trap.

Why we should worry about the poverty cycle

Those who are experiencing generational poverty don’t have the access to the means to break the cycle. Millions of children are affected by poverty, and they lack the access to healthy food, good medical care, quality education, and the opportunities of their peers. A child who has no secure access to food has a difficult time focusing in class, and then has a difficult job securing a job with a sub-par education. There’s a lack of access to the connections for those who are in the cycle, so breaking the cycle becomes more and more difficult. As income levels go up for the highest 1% in the United States, income levels fall for the lowest income earners in our nation. Such disparate income and asset accumulation leads to societal problems and becomes a human rights issue.

Approximately 22% of children live in poverty, and 2.8 million of those children are living in extreme poverty, on less than $2 a day. When a child lives in poverty, and grows up in the condition he or she is at risk for other things – being exposed to mold and lead, for example.

What can be done about the poverty cycle? 

The biggest thing that can be done to break the cycle of poverty is to prepare those in poverty for the work force. It’s important to update the programs attempting to address poverty as they have not been updated since the 1960s. The cycle of poverty is a difficult and complex issue that cannot be treated in just one way. It has to be come at from different directions – child care, health care, minimum wage, education, etc. all play a role in helping to break the cycle of poverty


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