Tough Questions: “Are People Who Live in Poverty Lazy?”

This is Part 2 in a five-part series answering tough questions people ask about poverty. (Read Part 1 to learn why families in poverty have large families.) We put five difficult questions to parents of children in Compassion’s program. In vulnerably sharing their experiences, they hope to break the stigma of and reveal the truth about living in poverty.

A man carries a bucket and a boat motor as he walks with a boy in from the water.

Tough Question 2: “Are people who live in poverty lazy?”

For these families, this hurtful myth couldn’t be further from the truth.

Long hours for low wages

The pandemic meant he lost his job, so Frangky in Indonesia now works two. “I work multiple jobs, finding fish in the sea from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., and starting at 8 a.m. to work in my garden until 4 p.m. But I only earn around US $3.48 per day,” he says.

Like Frangky, Consuelo and her husband, Orlando, work hard in El Salvador but have little to show for it.

“I have always worked, my whole life,” she says simply. “When I was 13 years old, I was already working cleaning houses, and when I turned 18, I started working in factories.”

Focused on survival

Olive knows the heartache of seeing her children startle each other awake with their cries of hunger. In Uganda, she says, people living in poverty are not lazy but focused on survival. There is no room in their minds for anything beyond the next meal.

“People who live in poverty are not lazy. They don’t think beyond what they are going to eat. It is hard for someone in poverty to plan or save. The mind remains preoccupied on what their children will eat,” she says.

Promise is wearing a blue and white polka dotted dress with a white jacket. She is pouring water into a yellow jerry can from a large blue rainwater harvesting tank.
Olive’s daughter Promise collects water from the family’s rain barrel in Uganda.

For Olive, her ability to work is also interrupted by the necessity of fetching drinking water. Purchasing water at the closest tap is too expensive for the family, so every two days she walks for six hours to bring water back for her family. “We don’t have easy access to water so the day I fetch water, I cannot work,” she says.

In Ecuador’s Amazon jungle, adults in Jaela’s village regularly work 12-hour days harvesting their crops. Sometimes it’s too dark to return home, so they sleep outside. Older siblings like Jaela (pictured below with her sister) are responsible for caring for their younger siblings.

“Honestly, you don’t rest in the jungle,” says the 18-year-old.

Jaela is wearing a pink shirt. She is in the kitchen of her home with her younger sister, Mayte. They are cooking plantains over an open fire.

Unable to secure work

When Pradeepkumar returns home, his wife’s hopeful smile falls as he simply shakes his head: There is still no work for him in Sri Lanka. Since he left his job in a mill due to health issues, he has struggled to find reliable work.

“He does day labor and usually finds work only three days a week,” says Devaki, his wife. “Now, because of COVID-19, even those three days of work are gone.”

In next week’s blog post about tough poverty questions, parents will answer this question: “How did you end up living in poverty?”


Field photography and reporting by Vera Aurima, Odessa B, Nico Benalcazar, Chuck Bigger, Caroline Mwinemwesigwa and Alejandra Zuniga. 

2 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Joram Tabitya October 16, 2021

    The global economy rides on the efforts of the poor . Their hard labor in plantations, factories , mines and informal sector.
    Breaking the vicious cycle of poverty is impossible with meager wages and low prices offered to them. Their large families only compound the problem. May our Lord Jesus Christ meet them at their point of need.

  2. Mary Marentette October 14, 2021

    I have never for one second thought people living in poverty were lazy. They are the opposite of those of us living so well. They have to work so very very hard just to get some water, or maybe a little food, etc….WE are the lazy ones! Lord bless them please.

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