Reading: The Impact of Poverty

Consequences of Poverty

A malnourished child is shown here.

For this child at a refugee camp in Ethiopia, poverty and malnutrition are a way of life. [“A malnourished child in an MSF treatment tent in Dolo Ado.jpg” by DFID – UK Department for International Development, Wikimedia Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

Not surprisingly, the consequences of poverty are often also causes. The poor often experience inadequate healthcare, limited education, and the inaccessibility of birth control. But those born into these conditions are incredibly challenged in their efforts to break out since these consequences of poverty are also causes of poverty, perpetuating a cycle of disadvantage.

Again, it is important to note that in the U.S., we are not entirely limited to the social class we are born into. We have the chance of social mobility. However, succeeding in our society can be highly more challenging to those born into poverty. Think of the starting line to a race. What if one runner gets to start half way to the finish line and then another one has to start twice as far back as everyone else? The person starting closer to the finish line is far more likely to finish the race first than those at the starting line, and the racer twice is far back is more likely to finish last. The outcome is not set definite, but the likelihoods are higher. So is the likelihood of those in particular social classes to obtain more resources. Those starting closer to the finish line are those in the higher class that have access to more resources. Those starting twice as far back are the poor who have to run that much faster to just finish in the middle of the pack.

According to sociologists Neckerman and Torche (2007) in their analysis of global inequality studies, the consequences of poverty are many. Neckerman and Torche have divided them into three areas. The first, termed “the sedimentation of global inequality,” relates to the fact that once poverty becomes entrenched in an area, it is typically very difficult to reverse. As mentioned above, poverty exists in a cycle where the consequences and causes are intertwined. The second consequence of poverty is its effect on physical and mental health. Poor people face physical health challenges, including malnutrition and high infant mortality rates. Mental health is also detrimentally affected by the emotional stresses of poverty, with relative deprivation carrying the most robust effect. Again, as with the ongoing inequality, the effects of poverty on mental and physical health become more entrenched as time goes on. Neckerman and Torche’s third consequence of poverty is the prevalence of crime. Cross-nationally, crime rates are higher, particularly for violent crime, in countries with higher levels of income inequality (Fajnzylber, Lederman, and Loayza 2002).

Slavery

While most of us are accustomed to thinking of slavery in terms of the antebellum South, modern day slavery goes hand-in-hand with global inequality. In short, slavery refers to any situation in which people are sold, treated as property, or forced to work for little or no pay. Just as in the pre-Civil War United States, these humans are at the mercy of their employers. Chattel slavery, the form of slavery once practiced in the American South, occurs when one person owns another as property. Child slavery, which may include child prostitution, is a form of chattel slavery. In debt bondage, or bonded labor, the poor pledge themselves as servants in exchange for the cost of basic necessities like transportation, room, and board. In this scenario, people are paid less than they are charged for room and board. When travel is required, they can arrive in debt for their travel expenses and be unable to work their way free, since their wages do not allow them to ever get ahead.

The global watchdog group Anti-Slavery International recognizes other forms of slavery: human trafficking (in which people are moved away from their communities and forced to work against their will), child domestic work and child labor, and certain forms of servile marriage, in which women are little more than chattel slaves (Anti-Slavery International 2012).

Supplemental Material

People often think that the United States is immune to the atrocity of human trafficking. Check out this link to learn more about trafficking in the United States.

For more information about the ongoing practices of slavery in the modern world click here.

Practice

1. Slavery in the pre-Civil War U.S. South most closely resembled

  1. chattel slavery
  2. debt bondage
  3. relative poverty
  4. peonage

2. In a U.S. town, a mining company owns all the stores and most of the houses. It sells goods to the workers at inflated prices, offers house rentals for twice what a mortgage would be, and makes sure to always pay the workers less than needed to cover food and rent. Once the workers are in debt, they have no choice but to continue working for the company, since their skills will not transfer to a new position. This situation most closely resembles:

  1. child slavery
  2. chattel slavery
  3. debt slavery
  4. servile marriage

Self-Check: Global Wealth and Poverty

You’ll have more success on the Self-Check, if you’ve completed the three Readings in this section.