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The Cycle of Poverty

No one wants to live in poverty, and almost everyone who lives in poverty was forced into it by some external source out of their control, such as losing their job, medical issues or the loss of the main provider through divorce or death. The danger of poverty is it quickly becomes a cycle. “In economics, the cycle of poverty is the 'set of factors or events by which poverty, once started, is likely to continue unless there is outside intervention'.” (Hutchinson Encyclopedia)

According to Stand Together, “Research suggests that poverty is driven primarily by five factors—chronic unemployment, personal debt, educational failure, addiction and trauma, and the breakdown of the family.“ These five factors keep someone in poverty but can also cause additional factors that make self-sufficiency more difficult to achieve. Poverty is compounding, meaning that once one thing goes wrong, everything else suffers. Being in crippling debt from a hospital visit can mean having to choose between paying rent and buying food that month or can mean going off necessary medications because you can no longer afford them. Having little or low-quality food leads to further medical concerns, which leads to more medical bills and so the cycle continues.

Urban Ventures notes, “The cumulative effect of these different forms of poverty sometimes creates the most damaging outcome of Generational Poverty—the constant presence of Hopelessness. Hopelessness is the key factor in creating the cycle—one generation to the next. Without hope and the belief that life can be better, the motivation and energy needed to break the cycle are very low.” The long-term effects of this hopelessness not only keep people mentally trapped in poverty, but can be the main cause of generational poverty.

A Guardian article adds, “Perhaps more damaging in the long term are the findings on how people feel about themselves when they’re in poverty. They are less confident in their ability to succeed, leading to decreased professional and educational attainment, depression and anxiety. The study also reported a 'negative self-stereotyping' effect, whereby people in long-term poverty absorbed the prevalent media stereotypes of people on benefits or facing unemployment as being 'low in warmth and low in competence'. Believing themselves to be fundamentally flawed, any achievement is tempered by a lack of confidence and subconscious self-loathing.”

Physical situations like an illness lead to job loss which leads to debt and more bills which leads to a lower standard of living which leads to further health issues and bill and it all culminates in low self-esteem and hopelessness. This is why the cycle of poverty is so hard to break. Why breaking out of poverty cannot be done alone. It requires outside intervention. A helping hand to halt the cycle until they can get their feet under them again. That’s why Community Action agencies exist.

Community Action agencies provide a number of resources that help people break out of poverty including financial and workplace education, job placement aid, childcare, transportation aid and food assistance. Our services address the physical needs of our clients, but they also give hope to the hopeless, which helps break the mental bonds of poverty.

Want to Join our Fight Against Poverty?

  • Donate | We use your money to help run our programs, and provide training that helps organizations and individuals make their way to self-sufficiency. Find your state association here.

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  • Partner with Us | We are humbled by the many non-profit and for-profit organizations that partner with us to bring services, education and events to to southeast region. If your organization is looking for a non-profit to partner with, please consider us. Email us at We would love to hear from you!

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