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Article

Shatakshee Dhongde

Economists have long been preoccupied with trying to understand the nature and causes of poverty. From Adam Smith to David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, Karl Marx, and John Stuart Mill, a common belief among economists is that the benefits of economic growth are rarely experienced by the poorer sections of society. An important issue is how to measure global poverty accurately. International organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank have endeavored to measure global poverty since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), stated in the UN’s Millennium Declaration which was adopted in 2000 by 189 nations. However, measuring global poverty is far from simple. Estimates of poverty and particularly of global poverty are very sensitive to the underlying assumptions, such as the notion of poverty itself, the choice of welfare indicator, the unit of measurement used, and purchasing power parity rates. One of the significant advances in global poverty studies was the World Bank’s introduction of a poverty line in the 1990 World Development Report (WDR). Despite these efforts, the precise number of poor in the world remains ambiguous. Nevertheless, emerging frontiers in poverty analysis indicate new interest in measuring poverty more broadly. Some ideas that may dominate the future of poverty research include multidimensional poverty, vulnerability to poverty, and chronic poverty.

Article

Larry E. Davis, John M. Wallace Jr., and Trina R. Williams Shanks

African Americans have been a part of the nation's history for nearly four hundred years. Although their history includes the forced imposition of chattel slavery, the strict enforcement of legal segregation, and a tenuous acceptance as equal citizens, African Americans have been, and continue to be, major contributors, creators, investors, and builders of America. In this article we summarize briefly the history of African Americans, we examine racial disparities in key indicators of social, mental, and physical well-being, and we highlight persistent strengths that can be built upon and areas that provide hope for the future. The challenge for social work is to simultaneously celebrate the historical successes and ongoing contributions of African Americans to this country while also recognizing the vestiges of structural racism and fighting for greater civil rights and social and economic justice.

Article

Globally, around 1.5 billion people in developing countries, or approximately 35% of the rural population, can be found on less-favored agricultural land (LFAL), which is susceptible to low productivity and degradation because the agricultural potential is constrained biophysically by terrain, poor soil quality, or limited rainfall. Around 323 million people in such areas also live in locations that are highly remote, and thus have limited access to infrastructure and markets. The households in such locations often face a vicious cycle of declining livelihoods, increased ecological degradation and loss of resource commons, and declining ecosystem services on which they depend. In short, these poor households are prone to a poverty-environment trap. Policies to eradicate poverty, therefore, need to be targeted to improve the economic livelihood, productivity, and income of the households located on remote LFAL. The specific elements of such a strategy include involving the poor in paying for ecosystem service schemes and other measures that enhance the environments on which the poor depend; targeting investments directly to improving the livelihoods of the rural poor, thus reducing their dependence on exploiting environmental resources; and tackling the lack of access by the rural poor in less-favored areas to well-functioning and affordable markets for credit, insurance, and land, as well as the high transportation and transaction costs that prohibit the poorest households in remote areas to engage in off-farm employment and limit smallholder participation in national and global markets.

Article

Poverty  

Mark R. Rank

Poverty has been a subject of concern since the beginnings of social work. This entry reviews three key research areas. First, the extent and dynamics of poverty are examined, including the measurement of poverty, patterns of cross-sectional and comparative poverty rates, the longitudinal dynamics of poverty, and poverty as a life-course risk. Second, reasons for poverty are discussed. These are divided into individual versus structural level explanations. The concept of structural vulnerability is offered as a way of bridging key individual and structural determinants in order to better understand the existence of poverty. Third, strategies and solutions to poverty are briefly reviewed.

Article

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), endorsed by 189 governments at the Millennium Summit, propose a concerted global effort to reduce the incidence of severe poverty and many of its most serious manifestations over a twenty-five-year period. The MDGs offer crucial insights into the politics of poverty and poverty reduction in international affairs. Their political dimensions can be analyzed in terms of agency, the nature and limits of accountability, the use and manipulation of quantitative goals for political ends, the dangerous illusion that MDG objectives can be accomplished in large part by mobilizing more development assistance, and the MDGs’ distinctly apolitical approach to the structural causes of poverty. The MDG initiative should be situated in three ongoing streams of debate and discussion: the debate over the relative priority of growth and of human development for poverty reduction; the tension between the assertion of rights and the enunciation of donor-driven goals as the political engine of poverty reduction; and the debate over the roles of markets and of state direction and regulation. While the MDGs concentrate on increasing aid flows to reduce the incidence of poverty and its manifestations, international trade and finance arrangements too often impede rapid progress. This is evident in water privatization, trade rules, and anti-retroviral medicines for HIV/AIDS patients. A way forward is to integrate the MDGs more deeply with human rights guarantees. Donors, for example, must take seriously the 2002 Draft Guidelines for the application of human rights to poverty reduction strategies.

Article

Francisco H. G. Ferreira, Emanuela Galasso, and Mario Negre

“Shared prosperity” is a common phrase in current development policy discourse. Its most widely used operational definition—the growth rate in the average income of the poorest 40% of a country’s population—is a truncated measure of change in social welfare. A related concept, the shared prosperity premium—the difference between the growth rate of the mean for the bottom 40% and the growth rate in the overall mean—is similarly analogous to a measure of change in inequality. This article reviews the relationship between these concepts and the more established ideas of social welfare, poverty, inequality, and mobility. Household survey data can be used to shed light on recent progress in terms of this indicator globally. During 2008–2013, mean incomes for the poorest 40% rose in 60 of the 83 countries for which we have data. In 49 of them, accounting for 65% of the sampled population, it rose faster than overall average incomes, thus narrowing the income gap. In the policy space, there are examples both of “pre-distribution” policies (which promote human capital investment among the poor) and “re-distribution” policies (such as targeted safety nets), which when well-designed have a sound empirical track record of both raising productivity and improving well-being among the poor.

Article

David Arase

As a policy tool, aid has not been confined to the roles that foreign and economic policy theorists have prescribed for it. Foreign aid attracts controversy because it structures how global poverty will be addressed. Aid’s proponents believe that it can eradicate absolute poverty and close the income gap between rich and poor countries, but its critics believe it holds out only false hope and obscures the real nature of the problem. The unrequited transfer of wealth from a weak nation to a stronger one is an ancient tradition, but the notion that it would be powerful nations transferring wealth to advance the economic development of weaker ones was virtually unheard of until the post-World War II era, particularly during the highly polarized Cold War climate. During this time, aid was used as a means of competition between the United States and the Soviet Union for influence over Third World countries. Aid also became a tool for opening up the markets of the developing world and integrating them into the global economy. The fact that foreign aid has come to mean development assistance since has raised a series of questions debated in the scholarly literature. Moreover, it is universally acknowledged that donors use aid to achieve objectives other than development and poverty reduction.

Article

The nature of the relationship between economic development and income inequality has long been the subject of considerable debate. Economic growth has very different effects on poverty, depending on a country’s level of income inequality. In high inequality countries, economic growth that raises the overall level of income disproportionately tends to benefit the rich, whereas policies that encourage economic growth while reducing income inequality will greatly accelerate the achievement of poverty reduction goals. Thus, understanding how income inequality and economic development are linked is important for establishing economic growth policies that reduce poverty. The literature on the economic development–income inequality nexus in industrial society places emphasis on the causes of current social inequality. The central and most cited paper in the literature is S. Kuznets’s “Economic Growth and Income Inequality” (1955), which proposed an inverted U-shaped relationship between development and inequality over the course of industrialization. Some scholars have tried to build upon Kuznets’s theory by focusing on his claim that income inequality is a function of the nature of regulations put on the market. Other studies deal with the importance of studying the relationship between democracy and inequality, the effect of the nature of the government on shaping inequality compared to industrialization, and the implications of globalization for income inequality. This overview of the literature shows that there is little true consensus on the relationship between inequality and development and highlights two major areas for improvement: measurement and data quality.

Article

Thanh-Dam Truong and Amrita Chhachhi

The discourse on poverty emerged in the context of capitalist industrialization and political debates on pauperism, and more specifically with the introduction of the Poor Laws whose principles on welfare and relief were firmly based on the idea of forging a system of wage labor concentrated on the male breadwinner. A major implication was the significant place occupied by the nuclear family in the field of poverty as welfare studies. Since the 1980s, feminists have made significant contribution to poverty knowledge by engaging with debates on gender, poverty, and social justice. The feminist critique of poverty knowledge formed part of a broader challenge to the androcentric and culturally specific assumptions of mainstream knowledge systems. In this context, Amartya Sen’s capability approach has been a major influence. Feminists introduced new conceptions of poverty that broaden the definition of poverty from basic needs to functionings, capabilities, assets, and livelihoods and a dynamic notion of vulnerability. Some key contributions of feminist poverty knowledge has been the deconstruction of the neo-classical concept of the household, the emergence of the care economy as a significant element in the experience of poverty, and the emphasis on subjectivity, agency and the notion of trade-offs. Feminist contributions to poverty knowledge have found particular resonance with the notions of care and justice. A greater challenge is how to frame care and justice within a global political society, given the power asymmetries between actors in the global framework.

Article

Praveen Kumar, Smitha Rao, and Gautam N. Yadama

Energy poverty is lack of access to adequate, high-quality, clean, and affordable forms of energy or energy systems. It is a prominent risk factor for global burden of disease and has severe environmental, social, and economic implications. Despite recent international attention to address energy for the poor, there is a limited consensus over a unified framework defining energy poverty, which impacts almost 2.8 billion mostly poor people, especially in Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have the largest number of energy poor. India, in South Asia, comprises a significant proportion of energy-impoverished households. There is a continued effort by the Indian government, non-profit agencies, and private organizations to address the needs of energy poor. Social workers have a significant role to play in these interventions addressing energy poverty in India. Emerging research and practice in the energy poverty field in India calls for transdisciplinary collaboration especially between social work practitioners of community development, environmental health, public health, and social policy.

Article

Karen Lyons and Nathalie Huegler

The term social exclusion achieved widespread use in Europe from the late twentieth century. Its value as a concept that is different from poverty, with universal relevance, has since been debated. It is used in Western literature about international development, and some authors have linked it to the notion of capabilities. However, it is not widely used in the social work vocabulary. Conversely, the notion of social inclusion has gained in usage and application. This links with values that underlie promotion of empowerment and participation, whether of individuals, groups, or communities. Both terms are inextricably linked to the realities of inequalities within and between societies and to the principles of human rights and social justice that feature in the international definition of social work.

Article

David Stoesz

Welfare as a right has long been an objective of advocates for social and economic justice. During the 1960s, the right to welfare was championed by legal scholars as well as the activists who created the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO). With the demise of NWRO in 1975 and the subsequent ascendance of conservatism in social policy, notably the 1996 welfare reform act, momentum for welfare as a right flagged. Since the 1990s, a capability approach to well-being has been proposed, and various instruments have been constructed to evaluate the welfare of populations across nations as well as subnational jurisdictions. Variables such as income, health, education, employment, and satisfaction measures of well-being have effectively replaced the idea of welfare as a right. The transition from welfare as a right to well-being varying across populations provides more information social workers can use to advocate for marginalized populations.

Article

Edna Comer

Paulo Freire (1921–1997), a Brazilian educator and author, is known for his theoretical contributions to education. His text Pedagogy of the Oppressed is considered one of the foundational texts of the critical pedagogy movement.

Article

Maryah Stella Fram

This entry provides an overview of current knowledge and thinking about the nature, causes, and consequences of food insecurity as well as information about the major policies and programs aimed at alleviating food insecurity in the United States. Food insecurity is considered at the nexus of person and environment, with discussion focusing on the biological, psychological, social, and economic factors that are interwoven with people’s access to and utilization of food. The diversity of experiences of food insecurity is addressed, with attention to issues of age, gender, culture, and community context. Finally, implications for social work professionals are suggested.

Article

Leah Igdalsky

Social workers working with individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families require an understanding of the disabilities themselves as well as the larger context of disability in society. Individuals with disabilities face particular risks for poverty and poor healthcare, and it is essential for social workers to understand the complex web of social services available. Furthermore, social workers often work not only with the person with a disability but also with their caregiving families.

Article

William A. Mirola

Scholars pursuing questions on the links between religion and social class typically examine several distinct sets of dynamics. A main research focus has addressed how religious beliefs, behaviors, and experiences vary across different social class contexts. Studies in this tradition draw on quantitative and qualitative data to illustrate such differences. Statistical studies have demonstrated economic and educational differences in patterns of an array of religious beliefs, religious service participation, and other religious behaviors, and especially social and political attitudes on everything from gay rights to gun control to political party preference. Qualitative work typically delves into the lived religious experiences of individuals from different classes as well as examining the ways in which religious expression is itself shaped by class cultures. A significant portion of this type of research examines how religion impacts the life and work experiences of those at the bottom of the class hierarchy, the working and nonworking poor. Here the way that faith shapes how poor people view the challenges of their lives and their views of the larger society are particularly central concerns. Addressing a second related set of questions, researchers also examine how participation in religious communities contributes to forms of social mobility in terms of socioeconomic status indicators. Statistical analyses dominate in this area, illustrating how denominational affiliation and measures of religious belief and practice predict views regarding income and wealth accumulation, educational attainment, and occupational choice. Another distinct area of scholarship examines the role religion has played in shaping the history of capitalism and the dynamics of the traditionally understood industrial working classes and the organized labor movement. Here, too, scholars examine how working-class individuals use religion as a way to understand their work and the evolution of global capitalism. Labor historians in particular have examined historical and contemporary instances in which religious leaders and organizations play active roles in industrial conflicts. Whichever route one takes to explore religion and social class, studying their intersections has been of longstanding interest to social scientists, historians, religious studies scholars, and theologians for more than a century. This article bridges these approaches and provides an overview of their complex intersections in contemporary social contexts.

Article

North America is one of the world's richest regions, and both the United States and Canada are ranked in the top 10 of the United Nations Human Development Index. However, poverty and inequality, and in particular, child poverty continues to be a significant problem. Social workers in both countries provide a wide array of human services to a range of populations. Social work has developed into a mature profession but is currently struggling to meet the increasing demand for its services.

Article

Shanti K. Khinduka

Globalization is the key social, economic, political, and cultural process of our time. This entry defines globalization, summarizes its complex and contradictory correlates and consequences, and offers, from a social work point of view, a balanced assessment of this powerful multidimensional process that is sweeping contemporary world.

Article

Food insecurity and hunger are serious problems around the world, with an estimated 870 million people chronically undernourished. The vast majority of these people—an estimated 14.9%—live in developing countries. Although federal food and nutrition assistance programs and the generally high standard of living in the United States have eliminated the more extreme forms of hunger found in developing countries, less severe but nonetheless serious forms of hunger and food insecurity affect millions of households. Food and nutrition programs require adequate funding, increased access, and further evaluation, but to achieve the goals of ending hunger and assuring food security for all, multisectoral strategies that address the macro-level determinants of food security are needed.

Article

Kathleen C. Schwartzman

Neoliberalism swept over Mexico like a tsunami. It swept away the country’s edifice of economic nationalism and left in its place an economy based on principles of neoliberalism. These neoliberal practices go by the names of the structural adjustment programs (SAPs), or the Washington Consensus. In 1982, when Mexico declared its lack of adequate resources to meet external debt service payments, it (like other Latin American countries) entered into debt renegotiations. These renegotiations required Mexico to implement reforms such as the privatization of state-owned enterprises, currency devaluation, and state budget reductions. Later agreements expanded upon the neoliberal reforms (the 1986 adherence to GATT; the 1992 revision of Article 27 of the Constitution, the 1993 signing of NAFTA, and the 1994 peso devaluation). Multiple iterations of the Foreign Investment Laws opened up Mexico to foreign investors. The goal of the neoliberal adjustments was to stabilize the economy and make it attractive for foreign direct investment. FDI, as well as open trade, promised to bring economic well-being and political stability to Mexico. The evaluations of the post-1982 reforms are mixed, but by the 21st century, tend toward “disappointing.” Increasing globalization has further marginalized Mexico. Neoliberal globalization is essentially about Mexico’s integration into the current global economy and the interaction of the global and the local. Mexico has been integrated into the global economy since Cortez, but the tsunami of neoliberalism has left Mexico with fewer armaments for successful development.