What is Poverty Law?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 January 2020
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Poverty law refers to legislation and legal activities that address issues associated with poverty. A broad term, poverty law interests can cover everything from welfare legislation to legal aid clinics in impoverished areas. Many lawyers, politicians, and public policy workers are drawn to the various aspects of poverty law over a desire to help protect citizens made vulnerable to diminished rights as a result of poverty.

Globally, poverty is an enormously prevalent issue. According to the World Bank, as of 2006, approximately 2.6 billion people, or 42% of the global population, lived in poverty. In the United States, generally considered a very prosperous nation, more than 14% of households were below the poverty line. Extreme poverty is often linked with fewer opportunities for education and quality medical care, environmental depletion, higher infant death rates, and increased crime rates. Poverty law may cover any or all of these issues; it is an area of legislation and study that is unlikely to ever be at rest.

In terms of legislation, poverty law refers to governmental acts, programs, and regulations that guide the management of poverty. Programs such as food stamps, unemployment benefits, job training programs, and government health insurance are frequently linked to issues of poverty. Governmental census bureaus and statistical analysis indexes are also important to the creation of poverty law, since governments need good data to understand the poverty level and its probable causes.


A poverty issues lawyer may work for the government on crafting new and improved legislation for the poor, or may work in regional governments on more specific issues. Outside of the public sector, poverty lawyers often specialize in offering legal services to the poor, through legal aid clinics and poverty law associations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center. The work of poverty attorneys is extremely important to the pursuit of justice, as it helps to ensure that people are not denied the protection of the law due to financial circumstances.

Poverty law in practice is far from uncontroversial in the political or legal arena. While proponents argue it is vital to maintaining a healthy economy and guaranteeing all citizens their rights, detractors often claim that too much assistance gives people cause to be lazy and allows those unwilling to work to take advantage of those that are not poor. With many arguments on both sides, the crafting of poverty law and the management of poverty-related issues can turn into a constant battle with no full solution. Despite several thousands of years of trying, no society has been able to craft a system of poverty laws that fully ends poverty.


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