What does it take to escape poverty?
The cycle of poverty is never-ending and will not likely to quickly disappear. In 2019, the census reported 34 million Americans living in poverty. The United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world with a rapidly growing economy, but with about 12% of the total population in poverty, that wealthy façade is contradictory. In 2020, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced more Americans into poverty due to job loss. And, even as the economy begins to thrive again, many still struggle to find jobs that pay enough to support their families. This tragedy highlights how easy it is to fall into poverty, and the difficulty in escaping it. “Most people understand that poverty is an issue. But what most people don’t understand is the complex interconnectedness—the layered, tangled web of external and internal challenges that compound against an individual born into poverty rendering them hopeless for any kind of escape,” The Guardian explains. Falling into poverty is devastating but being born into poverty can be soul crushing. Children who are born into poverty are unlikely to escape due to a lack of external intervention.
Moreover, two types of poverty exist: situational and generational. The poverty that stems from an unexpected catastrophe is situational. Whereas generational poverty transpires through multiple family generations that have endured poverty. The brutal combination of both in a person's life is more frequent than many would assume. Rates of those in poverty have slightly declined while the price of living and average income increases every year. It is not enough to know poverty exists but to look at how it influences your community and identify the necessary steps for it to end.
So, is there an escape? Yes. It is crucial to first look at the barriers individuals face. No one person has the same story. Looking at the person's specific circumstances helps to provide a framework on what measures should occur to combat both the internal and external factors keeping an individual in poverty. Because poverty is unique, solutions must be treated on a case-by-case basis. Money is not the only way to leverage yourself out of poverty. Solutions centered around large groups of people with no consideration of social factors and historical injustices are useless. People are more than numbers.
Desired results should have long-term outcomes focusing on individualism. "The ones that empower each individual to realize and tap into their unique gifts and talents, levering their unique experiences to break down these individual barriers.” (The Guardian) Solving poverty comes from these types of ideologies. People in poverty endure a tougher time reaching their maximum potential because poverty is often associated with isolation and rejection. Programs put in place by government agencies and private companies touch on some of the issues that occur within poverty but are limited in resources and availability. Although government aid makes a significant impact in the lives of low-income families, what they truly need is community support. With a supportive community, low-income families will have the village they need to raise their kids, accept more opportunities and resources and become more successful. Every individual is entitled to their level of greatness, but unless we help our fellow man, that greatness will be stifled by poverty.
Kelley Traynham is a writer in the North Carolina Community Action Association’s Communications Fellows Program. NCCAA Communications Fellows are students or recent graduates pursuing a career in communications, graphic design, IT, public policy or a related field. They receive a stipend for their participation in the program. For more information on the NCCAA Communications Fellows Program, please contact Yvette Ruffin, director of the NCCAA Communications Fellows Program.