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What is Situational Poverty?

Impoverished children eating watermelon.
A shanty town.
People donating food to those in poverty.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 March 2014
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Situational poverty is a period of being poor caused by situational factors, in contrast with generational poverty, which is a form of entrenched poverty that can encompass multiple generations of a family. There are a number of reasons for this condition to emerge, but some of the most common are divorce, death of a spouse, unexpected health expenses, and the loss of a job. These uncontrollable events can cause a spiral of events which leads to a a loss of income and material possessions.

Understanding the difference between generational and situational poverty is crucial for people who work with the poor and for poverty advocates. People in different types of poverty tend to approach their circumstances differently, and they may have very different values or priorities. By not trying to understand the circumstances of the poor in a region, activists can sometimes do more harm than good, even when they think that they are trying to help.

Someone experiencing situational poverty is often of a higher level of education than people who experience entrenched poverty. He or she is also typically familiar with the complex hidden rules and social codes of the middle classes, and this knowledge can be helpful when that person attempts to cope with the situation. People in this situation are also more likely to have assistance to fall back on, in the form of family members and supportive people in the community, and this can make a huge difference.

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Poverty can be grueling, especially without a support network. For people who have worked hard all their lives, it can also be extremely depressing, as it may seem like everything is being taken away for no apparent reason. Many people who work with individuals in poverty point out that such circumstances are a sobering lesson, as they can potentially strike anyone; many people in the middle classes, for example, are only a catastrophic accident away from losing everything.

Getting out of short-term poverty usually requires identifying and addressing the cause and seeking out employment that will help to alleviate the situation. In many cultures, assistance is provided in the form of temporary government benefits, job placement assistance, food banks, and so forth, in the hopes of preventing people from falling through the cracks. If situational poverty is prolonged, it has a potential to become generational, which is something most advocates would like to avoid.

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Discuss this Article

anon336379
Post 4

Lack of education is not the problem. We have more college grads than ever before but we have little for them to do. Outsourcing and automation have broken the system; there simply are not enough jobs to go around anymore. Millions of people will and are being left behind while a tiny fraction will reap the rewards.

GenevaMech
Post 3

I agree that education needs to be better. I feel like high school students are coming into the world with a basic skill set that is antiquated by today's standards. I also believe that fewer students are graduating with knowledge of how money works. Knowledge of things like economics, accounting, and finances should be mandatory for high school students. I would bet money that if high school students graduated with a basic understanding of these skills, then they would be prepared for some of the events that push people into situational poverty. Our economy would be much more productive.

GlassAxe
Post 2

This has more to do with generational poverty than situational poverty, but I believe the largest contributor to poverty is lack of access to education. My fiancée is an educator, and one of her favorite books she has read is Ruby Payne's Framework for Understanding Poverty. She said the book taught her how to be an effective teacher not only for well to do children, but children from impoverished backgrounds.

My point about all of this is that our nation's lack of emphasis on education has been a major contributor to the economic recession, in turn leading to situational poverty. I feel like this country has lost its competitive edge. More qualified scientists, mathematicians, and innovators are coming from all over the world because there is a demand for them. This demand is created by a lack of supply on our side. For nearly a century, this country innovated some of the world's best technologies, but now the new wave of technological advancements are happening elsewhere.

Comparables
Post 1

It seems like situational poverty is increasing. The situation is getting worse for so many people and I do not understand why. How does an economy crash so hard and fast without anyone being held accountable? The only people I see recovering from this situation are those who can afford to buy their ways out. For me, the only option was to go back to school. I went from making a decent salary to qualifying as a low-income student in a matter of two years. I just did not have the skill set to compete with other candidates, or I was not willing to work for as low a wage as they were offering. I am confident my situation will turn around, but I am not sure if I like the boom and bust cycles that have been getting worse over the decades.

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