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The Cycle Of Poverty: How Some Poverty Alleviation Methods are Designed to Fail

Updated on May 28, 2012

The culture of poverty ensures that poverty reduction strategies will continue to fail.

Cycle of Poverty
Cycle of Poverty | Source

Types of Poverty

Absolute Poverty

The inability to afford basic goods and services.

Critical Poverty

The inability to obtain or afford enough food to sustain life.

Relative Poverty

The inability to afford what society dictates is necessary when compared to others in a society.

Subjective Poverty

The individuals label themselves as being poor because they cannot afford specific goods and services in relation to their status.

Chronic Poverty

The situation where people live in poverty for most or all of their lives.

Seasonal Poverty

The situation where an individual's income falls below the poverty line only at certain times of the year (e.g. Persons working as seasonal laborers in fields and tourism sector).

In any society and in any country, there are those who are far less fortunate than others are. We see them in shelters, on the streets, and sometimes in landfills searching for something that will allow them to survive the rest of the day. Not all were from poor families, but it is likely that they will bring others into the world that will end up in the same situation and it becomes a forlorn cycle.

Poverty is a difficult thing to define as to many people it may mean different things. One individual may think of himself as being poor because he is unable to afford the items owned by the majority of people in his country but he can afford his basic needs (relative poverty). Then there are those who suffer in critical poverty, chronic poverty, and absolute poverty. The focus in this article is on individuals who are in absolute, critical, and chronic poverty.

Oscar Lewis
Oscar Lewis

Oscar Lewis and the Cycle of Poverty

Oscar Lewis was born in New York City in 1914. He studied History in his early years and transitioned to Anthropology during his years at Columbia University. He went to Mexico in 1943 where he worked with a large number of poor families. Having grown up in poverty and working with so many poor families, Lewis had a distinctive view on the various factors that affected people in poverty. 1

Oscar Lewis, in studying the causes and effects of poverty focused on, in my opinion, the types of poverty that are the focus of this piece. Lewis' perspective is that poverty has become a subculture, which can be transmitted from generation to generation. This he referred to as 'the culture of poverty'.

For the children living in poverty, the traditions and cultures that are taught to them are likely to keep them in poverty. They are not given the opportunity to interact with non-poor children so they may grow up with feelings of resentment for these children. They go to different schools and live in different neighborhoods. They grow up leading completely different lives and the poorer children may grow up with a feeling of fatalism, as there seems to be no way out of their poverty. Many become teen parents, introducing to the world another generation that will continue the cycle of poverty.


Poverty Reduction Policies

In order to eradicate the culture of poverty and poverty itself, poverty reduction strategies have been put in place. These strategies are meant to lessen and even eradicate poverty. The strategies and policies that Lewis argues however, that these strategies are doing the opposite of what they were meant to do and in the end encourage poverty

According to Oscar Lewis, the culture of poverty has three levels. These levels are the individual, family, and community levels. At the individual level the poor has a sense of resignation and fatalism. They feel as if there is no way out of their poverty. They feel marginalized, helpless, and inferior and have little ability to delay gratification.

The sociologist, Rev. Thomas R. Malthus echoed the similar sentiments in regards to the poor's inability to delay gratification. Malthus discussed in his writings various ways in which to prevent overpopulation, one of his solutions was celibacy. He was quick to mention though, that this strategy was aimed only at the rich because he thought poor people do not have the capacity to practice sexual restraint. He was against poor laws that provided handouts for poor people instead of creating jobs and educational opportunities.

Poverty Reduction on the Individual Level: PATH Jamaica

In Jamaica, the Program of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) and the School Feeding Program are some poverty alleviation policies. Due to what Lewis described at the individual level, they are futile efforts. In the School Feeding program and PATH, students receive free lunches at school and the parents of some receive small amounts of money to assist with other expenses.

PATH (Program of Advancement Through Health and Education)

-Funded by the government and the World Bank

-To benefit, the individual must apply and be interviewed by a ministry representative.

-Beneficiaries include:

♦Children (0 - completing secondary school)

♦Elderly (60+ without pension)

♦Persons with disability

♦Pregnant and lactating mothers

Poor adults (18 - 59)

-Major benefit is cash grant

-Payment is made every two months

If students are ashamed and feel marginalized and inferior when they go to collect these free lunches, they will eventually stop going. With their inability to delay gratification, some parents some parents use the stipend they receive on short-term and unimportant things. They may spend it on new party clothes, getting their hair done, or going to a dance instead of their child's education or food.

For some, their shame is so great that they refuse to collect the PATH tickets and lunches. This means that if the parents find no other means of coming up with the resources they need, the child will miss many days of school and when they do get the chance to attend school, they will have little to nothing to eat. Going to school hungry and not eating while at school will affect the education of the child. Because of their fragility, some faint or simply sleep throughout their classes.


Some may act out and resolve to steal to get whatever they need. When found out, they are likely to become suspended or expelled depending on the nature of their situation.

In both cases, the child will miss important opportunities and lessons that will help them to become successful in their lives and be their ticket out of poverty. Due to the 'handouts' that they refuse to make use of, they are unfortunately stuck in poverty and the cycle continues.

Poverty Reduction at the Family Level: Bridge Jamaica Project

At the family level, free union and consensual marriages, high divorce rates, and the increasing numbers of female-headed households, according to Lewis, ensures a cycle of poverty. One poverty alleviation policy that is aimed at the family level in Jamaica is the Bridge Jamaica Project.

♦ The Bridge Jamaica Project provides Social Protection for families (instead of teaching them how to make good choices and learn how to protect themselves by avoiding certain situations).

♦ Functions under the umbrella of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund.

♦ It is targeted at female-headed households.

♦ It is meant to compliment other family support programs (which mean the families will need to be part of these multiple programs. This is unrealistic, poor female-headed families will find it hard to set aside the time, and resources that may be needed to be successful in these programs. Would it not be easier to have one simple program that covers all areas and teaches the family to better themselves instead of lining them up for a dozen short-term handouts?)

Poverty Reduction at the Community Level: Metcalf Projects

The Support to Metcalf Project is a number of short-term projects. The latest project is scheduled to run from November 2011 to September 2012. The aim of this latest project is to fund the training and reintegration of juveniles at the Metcalf Street Secure Juvenile Center. While is program is a good one and is aimed in the right direction by training the children, it is at a disadvantage because it is merely a short-term program. It will not be in place long enough to make a big enough impact for many in the center. Children can quickly unlearn what is taught to them. If you approach a child that has known nothing but poverty and crime and in less than one year, teach them how to make their lives better, and then leave them in the same environment they were in before, little will be accomplished.

At the community level, the cycle of poverty is seen by the lack of effective participation on major institutions such as the National Health Fund (NHF) and the Jamaica Drug for the Elderly Program (JADEP). Little use is made of banks, museums, hospitals and such institutions. This is because many individuals in these communities do not earn even minimum wage so they do not have enough money to make use of the services these institutions offer.

With so many people living in poverty, eradicating poverty is going to be a tedious and ongoing task. The reason why so many poverty alleviation policies fail is not because they were specifically designed to fail, they failed because they were poorly designed. If more of the people who headed these organizations take into consideration the long-term benefits and worth of what they are offering, they may re-think their efforts. This is true not only for Jamaica but for countries all over the world.

That said there are many alleviation policies that have the right idea. They teach the poor to fend for themselves instead of giving them handouts. One organization that I have had the pleasure to work with has the right idea when it comes to getting people out of poverty. Lisech Global is an e-Marketing company that covers all aspects of online marketing. Lisech Global provides shelter and childcare services for poor and abused women. Their services are no handouts though; the women who are taken in work with the company and each are responsible for taking care of all the children. They also attend school, learn a skill, or trade that they can use to survive on their own. The profits from the business go towards paying the women in the home that work in the company.

Even though there are many poverty alleviation policies in place that have been active for years in Jamaica, it sometimes seems that the numbers of the poor are rising. This cannot be quoted as the only reason for the cycle of poverty as tax and the cost of basic goods constantly increase while the growth of wages seem to be stunted.

1Oscar Lewis." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. 26 May. 2012<>.


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    • poetryman6969 profile image


      4 years ago

      The Good Book says the poor will always be with you.

      The poor reproduce faster than the rich. There will always be more of them unless cloning is legalized.

      Once politicians found out they could have a captive, ever increasing base of voters called the poor, it was game over. If you can fool the poor into thinking your "anti-poverty" programs which are destroying them are to their benefit, you can be reelected forever.

    • Loi-Renee profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Jamaica

      Thank you Rasta1. Just getting back to HubPages so I will definitely check out your hub.

    • rasta1 profile image

      Marvin Parke 

      5 years ago from Jamaica

      I have written a hub similar this. I am impressed with the amount of effort that was put into this hub.

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      6 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      I found this while searching on Google. KrystalD our approach works. We are in the middle of America though. Would it work in any country in the world? I believe so. I do find there are those so set in their ways all they want is a hand out.

      The majority though would rather have a hand up. They feel empowered when they are paying their own way. Especially women who are abused by men. Most want to make it on their own. They don't want to be dependent on anyone or any government.

      I guess I had better introduce myself. I am Dennis Thorgesen the owner of Lisech eMarketing.

      We do have to take donations now. Something we had been able to avoid in the past. It is never money, always food, clothing or furniture. In each case someone we have taken in either finds a way to furnish labor for the person who has donated or repays as a pay it forward.

      The person who donates is always ask if there is any way we can repay them. If they say no, we ask what they would like us to do in the community. If they still have no ideas we offer suggestions.

      Every adult works in some way. Taking care of the children is now done strictly by women. The one man we have does maintenance and cooks upon occasion.

      Each spends time on the computer or the phone doing their part for the business. The skills they learn are sometimes taken to local businesses. We have paid for fuel and college classes which also help the women find jobs. The time they spend here is counted as employment so they now have an employment history.

      The women who come through our system in every case we believe are better off. There is not one who has left that is not now in the workforce.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      okay i know poverty. Im a single mom. My ex lied about having a vesectomy. he bailed. I recieve no child support and my SSDI check is too high for assistance i am blessed to have housing section 8. I tried to apply for child care assistance at the department of human serrvices so i could simply have a moment to think and a small amount of time to figure out a plan. I was denied because you can only get assistance if you work or go to school. How does someone with barely any work experience get a job especially in this economy and what am i supposed to do with my son? bring him in a job interview? leave him in the car? these are not options. i tried to utilize the ticket to work program through SSA and it was a disaster and i was so very meticulous. i even worked for our states independent living center who was supposed to help with benefits planning. i ended up having a nervous break down after not being reasonably accomadated. then my reinstatement of benefits as promised never happened. i got an attorney and still dont know what happened. i researched obsessively, i wanted more for myself and despite all my effort all my research knowledge and time invested in the end it didnt matter. my case worker told me it was a computer glitch. the CWIC benefits planner offered to go with me, I could barely speak or form a sentence i was so burnt out and she sat next to me and took the side of the incompetant case worker and despite my rare form I knew intuitively something wasnt right. i was lied to by who i thought was my advocate. my attorney got a few things settled and i think he appealed the denial which is what you do, you never reapply. anyways long long story short now im a single mom and I dont feel as though i have options and i am hopeless because the system fails people so people never get out of welfare. and poverty equals crime. ive scene it with my own eyes and these criminals werent bad people they just got stuck. im sick of hearing the problem I know the problems and short falls of being impoverished i want a solution. please. i am begging someone to please direct me in the right way, i will help myself but i need help desperately or the cycle will continue and im having a hard time finding that acceptable. but im loosing hope.

    • Loi-Renee profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Jamaica

      Hello KrystalD. It is really frustrating. The more effective measures in Jamaica would be schools like HEART. It offers skills and vocational training.

    • KrystalD profile image


      6 years ago from Los Angeles

      This is an awesome and important hub. I certainly agree that poverty is not accidental. Your example of Jamaica is a heart breaking as well as frustrating one. What alternative measures of handling poverty seem to be more effective?


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