What is poverty?

Your answer might depend on the time and place in history I am referring to. What might have been considered poverty in 7th century China is a much different thing than poverty in modern Germany, as an example. When we humans define poverty, it is mostly put in relative terms, as in, being poor changes depending on the living conditions of society at any one time or place.

That is why even today, when those living below the poverty line in the United States have more access to information, entertainment, life saving drugs, more enjoyable food, and many other things, than monarchs did in centuries past, we still consider them “poor.” If this is how we choose to define poverty, then grandiose notions of “ending poverty” through fighting “wars” on the concept is pointless. There will always be poverty if living in poverty only means having it worse than others at the same time and place you are alive. Unless, those who wish to end it plan on achieving a perfectly egalitarian utopia, where everyone is equally well off in material terms. And of course, those who want the government to ‘do more’ to fight poverty assure us that this isn’t truly their end goal.

It would do us all some good to understand just what is considered “poverty” in the United States. According to The Heritage Foundation, who looked at reliable government data from the Department of Energy, in 2005, 99.6% of American households below the poverty line had at least one refrigerator, 97.7% had a television, 65.1% had more than one television, 97.7% had a stove/oven, 78.3% had air conditioning, 54.5% had a cellular phone (again, this is only 2005), 25% had a dishwasher, 29.3% had a video game console, 81.4% had a microwave, and 0.6%, more than one in every 200 “poor” households, had a jacuzzi!

Let’s make something clear. There are many Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, and many more Americans, such as the homeless, who don’t have access to the things listed above. But we need to keep a sense of perspective when we discuss issues surrounding poverty. Keep this information in mind the next time you hear a statistic about how many Americans are living below the poverty line. The poverty line is an arbitrary/subjective number, designed by the government. It certainly isn’t something you would want to live below, but living below it doesn’t mean you have a horrible standard of living, especially compared to the abysmal conditions many people are living in across the world.

If poverty can be defined in absolute terms, such as exposure to the elements, starving to death, etc, then eliminating poverty is a clear/attainable goal that mankind can and will one day reach. Hopefully, we start thinking this way, and can focus our attention on people who are truly living in deplorable conditions.

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