What is the Definition of Poverty?

How do you understand and define poverty? Tell us.

Then over the next several weeks we’ll publish a series of posts to help clearly establish what our definition and understanding of the problem is and explain to you the basis of our holistic approach to ministry.

You might expect that such a fundamental and heavily studied concept as poverty would have a universal definition; however, such is not the case.

Common definitions, such as those from Merriam-Webste’s Online Dictionary, define poverty as “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.”

Professional and academic descriptions of poverty often include non-income aspects such as health, security/vulnerability, self-respect/identity, justice, access to services, political voice, freedom, social connectedness and so on.

Unfortunately, the absence of a clear definition is a serious problem for organizations whose missions are to eradicate poverty or, in Compassion’s case, to release children from poverty.

– Scott Todd, Senior Ministry Advisor, Compassion International

17 Comments |Add a comment

  1. maryam yussuf June 9, 2012

    i agree,but poverty is a state of human who money or food

    1. maryam yussuf June 9, 2012

      And their body is not good they are so weak they doesn’t have enough food.

  2. Joseph Engel March 12, 2012

    Poverty is not having enough to survive healthily.

  3. Sarah Flood September 24, 2010

    I agree with many of the things said, but I like Marvin’s comment most of all. Probably most people experience a poverty of sorts in their lives. It all boils down to a complete lack of some necessary ingredient to a full, rich life; the life God intended. In other words, the lack of enough. Enough is whatever God intends for us to have in this life so that we can fulfill his will for us.

    A child in poverty, with so far below enough that they can barely even lift up their head, or with such poor health that they cannot go to church, much less school, or such a terrible home life that they cannot imagine somebody loving them, cannot fulfill their God-given roll unless God, through another human being intervenes in a powerful way. That is poverty; when a human is in a condition that they cannot escape without the intervention of God.

    It is why God calls us to help and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

  4. Mike Stephens September 21, 2010

    I agree with Kees 110% Know Jesus, no poverty…No Jesus, know poverty

  5. Sally Trotter September 21, 2010

    Poverty is the lack of hope and opportunity.

  6. Jane Beal September 21, 2010

    Dr Ruby Payne, in her research on working with children from poverty, defines poverty as a lack of resources and access in several areas, including:

    Language (ability to speak in formal register)
    Support systems
    Relationships/role models
    Knowledge of middle class hidden rules

    Thus, someone could have money, but be poor; someone could lack money, but be rich in support systems and knowledge of hidden rules.

    For most children sponsored through Compassion, initially, they struggle with poverty in a variety of areas … but through Compassion, they become rich mental, spiritual, and physical resources as well support systems and role models. Praise the Lord!

    Jane Beal, PhD

  7. Nisha September 21, 2010

    Poverty is a lack of opportunity.

  8. Larissa September 20, 2010

    Kees – I agree.

    My definition of poverty is not having the means to acquire something that is needed. Needs are not wants. Needs are things that stop you from living. Salvation is the ultimate need.

  9. jaya September 20, 2010

    for me the macro concept that we couldn’t state the poverty based of the normal condition of people . because of sins man already live in poverty .though someone is a rich they must have a lack in few aspect of their life . that poverty also .Man in the world lives in poverty .
    micro concept: poverty is a a lack of a all aspect of man life . so they couldn’t reach their quailty of life like other normal man life . no opportunities for their life to reach what they need. many challenges they have to face to be survived of their life . thank u .

  10. Kim Edge September 20, 2010

    Yes, Kees, and the amount of God’s riches is infinite as well…so there is no need for anyone to be spiritually poor, if we would turn to our God and receive from His endless supply of love and compassion.

    I feel that I am using way too much in the sense of this world’s goods, in comparison with my child in Ethiopia. I want to use less so I have more to give to those in need.

    What is considered poverty in America by our inflated standards would be abundance in Africa.

    Time for me to go turn the computer and the lights off 🙂

  11. Kees Boer September 20, 2010

    I was just rereading that fourth big paragraph and realized I didn’t add one statement to it and thus it is a little unclear. What I’m trying to say is that the length of your life compared to all eternity is nothing. Thus in order to really help someone escape poverty, we need to deal with the eternal aspect, which is them trusting Christ as their Saviour and thus receiving the forgiveness of sin.

  12. Kees Boer September 20, 2010

    Great question and it is something that talk about all of the time when looking for sponsors for children.

    When we say that we’re trying to help children escape poverty, most people have Webster definition in mind. In other words the solution to the poverty is money. Hence you get sponsors, who faithfully send money, but never write a letter. They are certainly helping this child, but the child feels very sad, because the child doesn’t get the encouragement.

    When we think that true richess is eternal riches, because Jesus tells us to lay up our treasures in heaven, in the same way, true poverty is eternal poverty. What shall it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, yet loses his soul? Jesus asked this. The obvious answer is “nothing.”

    I know some people, who are extremely rich. They don’t think twice about spending $100,000 to fix their yacht. They go out to eat and spend close to a $1,000…. Yes, these people, I told them that compared to some of my Compassion children, they are poor. Then I told my Compassion children about some of them, while not going into great details and I told them that they are rich compared to some of them. 100 years is nothing compared to eternity. Any first year calculus student can tell you that a constant divided by x as x approaches infinity goes towards zero…. Or to put that in non math terms, it doesn’t matter, if you have a lot of money, if you have to divide it into a large number of people , it goes to nothing. $100,000,000 is a lot of money, but if we had to divide that among all of the people of the world, we’d get a little less than 2 pennies.

    So, the same with eternity. We can help these children with a lot of physical help and that is great, but if they don’t receive Christ, they are very poor and if they do receive Christ, they are ultimately very rich. If you have Christ you have everything, if you don’t have Christ, you have nothing.

    This is why I am so excited that I can sponsor through Compassion, because they only work through local churches, but most of all they are Christ centered. .


  13. Marvin September 20, 2010

    Poverty is the lack of…

    I live in a country with great spiritual poverty (Taiwan/ China). The church is seeing great revival but most people have no understanding of God. They live in great spiritual poverty.
    Most people in the Philippines have material poverty. The child I sponsor has a lack of food; but we through away food in Taiwan and the next island over has a lack of food. In America we have emotional poverty. You need to look and act a certain way. We have broken families and many broken people. Money can not buy happiness. We spend money on ourselves to fill the emptiness of emotional poverty

  14. Judith Tremblay September 20, 2010

    Poverty is a lack of resources…

    a lack of the basic resources of a safe place to live and a reliable source of food.

    a lack of resources for obtaining education/training/help to fix the first set of problems…

    which ultimately leads to a lack of hope.

Add a Comment

Read the ground rules for comments.