Who Are the Poor and Where do They Live

Justin Long in his blog recently shared “Words are things that we use: sometimes carefully, sometimes carelessly. I have been scanning a lot of articles lately and thinking about resilient communities.  Rich or poor are difficult terms: they can be relevant or absolutes.”

When we say someone is richer or poorer we are comparing them to someone else. To say I am poorer than someone else is really not a judgment although it can imply it. I am probably always going to be poorer because I am not Bill Gates, the richest man in the world. (In that sense, one could say Warren Buffet, to, is poorer. But he is also richer than me.)

When we say someone is rich or poor we are placing them in a category. There is a growing divide between the rich and the poor: the rich tend to have a lot more than the poor, and the poor tend to have a lot less. There is an arbitrary “middle line” between these two.”

Let me share with you some of the content we have found in doing Neighborhood Transformation. Poverty is not so much the absence of goods but the absence of power. Poverty is found in all races, cities and countries. The lack of capability of being able to change their own situation is a major indicator of poverty People who are marginalized, exploited and oppressed by the city system live in poverty. The political power system many times fosters poverty. The economic powers become the exploiters of the poor. Their support systems by others is generally absent or they may not be as beneficial  as with the middle class

Those Who Make up People Living in Poverty

Most of us have a tendency to place the poor in one category thinking they are all the same but in reality they are not. They normally fall into the following categories.

Generational Poor

  • No family history of wealth or savings or land holdings
  • They have no well educated or high achieving  role models
  • They have a lower education level many not have graduated from high-school
  • Many believe in fate, that this is their lot and they cannot escape
  • No long term future plans as they live in the present.
  • No consistency in benefits or support systems that help in work or school, just existing
  • Tends to be matriarchal society, single women led.
  • Respond to crisis as best can with little planning for future


Traditional Working Poor

  • Little disposal income
  • Probably does not have healthcare
  • Sees being poor as a personal deficiency
  • Has very little leisure quality time
  • Unable to purchase a home always renting
  • They are many times one paycheck away from being homeless
Recent Immigrant Poor

  • Just arrived from foreign country with little money
  • May have language problem not speak English
  • May not have marketable skills
  • Driven to get ahead and succeed
  • May send most of any money earned back to their home overseas
  • Isolated because know very few others outside of their people group
  • Does not know how the system works because very different then in their home.

Seniors on Limited Income

  • On social security or retirement which is fixed
  • Generally lived in the neighborhood a long time
  • Home may need repairs and they do not have the energy nor income to get it repaired.
  • May have poor health which limits them to their home.
  • Family may not be close to help them.
  • Friends have died or moved

In 2008, 91.6 million people—more than 30 percent of the nation’s population—fell below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. More individuals lived in families with incomes between 100 and 200 percent of poverty line (52.5 million) than below the poverty line (39.1 million) in 2008. Between 2000 and 2008, large suburbs saw the fastest growing low-income populations across community types and the greatest uptick in the share of the population living under 200 percent of poverty.

Where do the Poor Live

In the past the poor or under-served neighborhoods use to be in large urban city centers with people living in slums. The middle class and rich lived in the outlying suburbs but this is changing drastically. Today the poor live everywhere many in government subsidized apartment complexes or many people in a single family home. Since 2010 over 50% of the poor now live in suburbs instead of in the city center. They can be your neighbor next door.


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