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Poverty means different things to different people, and different countries lay down different criteria for a person to be considered as poor.
In the USA poverty was officially defined as income insufficient to buy basic necessities of life including among others food, clothing, shelter. As per the cost of living and living standards in 2004, the subsistence cost of living for a family of four was estimated to be $18,850 per year. Any family with income level below this was considered to be poor.
However, it must be noted that this threshold income level of poverty is likely to change over a period. Also this standard is not applicable to other countries because of the difference in average price levels and what is considered to be sufficient basic necessities. In general, the poor countries consider much lower level of necessities as sufficient. Also they generally have lower level of prices for basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter. For this reason the threshold family income level for classifying poverty is likely to be much lower in poor nations.
Phenomenal question. Truly, this is an insightful question. I think that poverty in America is different from the rest of the world. Part of this might be in the fact that much of America sees itself as “middle class.” Most of us realize that we are not Bill Gates or Carly Fiorino or Warren Buffet in terms of wealth. Yet, in its assertions of egalitarianism and theoretical equality of opportunity, we are not, as a predisposed, to utilizing the term of “poverty.” Perhaps, lower middle class or “going through hard times,” but “poverty” seems to bring about a whole other realm. This vision is one of rural and completely isolated America or the depths of our urban centers, both domains having been the result of the experiment of systematic neglect for a prolonged period of time. Poverty in other nations, in particular poorer ones, completely inverts this. The term “middle class” is actually a class of people and individuals don’t use that term as lightly. The poverty experienced in other nations might actually come close to the way the term was meant to be envisioned. In traveling around the world and speaking with others, I am fairly convinced that poverty in other nations reconceptualizes the term because the poverty these individuals experience is one where there is not only financial depletion evident, but also a withering of the human soul. These individuals who fit the term “poverty” are ones that experience the result of institutional inequality and a lack of fundamental opportunity. This is not something that is so openly apparent in America. For example, the child born in the poorest of conditions in America can still afford to go to some type of public school. With a great deal of hardship, no school door is brazenly closed in their face because of their impoverished condition, helping to facilitate the vision that education can be a way to alleviate their own state of being in the world. I don’t see this as much with children who are impoverished in other cultures or nations, where education is more of a privilege instead of a right. The concept of public education as it is in the States is not something shared worldwide, where a child who is impoverished does not have the vision or illusion to believe in the promises and possibilities of education for this door, sadly enough, has also been closed. I think that this creates a disquieting effect in Americans. It creates a very challenging view of the world, whereby one has theoretical promises open to them. The reality of these being fulfilled might vary, but the theory is present. When seeing in other nations this theory being shut down to others, there is a question that emerges: At what point does faith in theory become something akin to “fool’s gold” or something where complete immersion is needed? The impoverished in other nations do not have this vision, making the American who is impoverished filled with a new set of anxiety.
I only have experience in a few different places, but having recently traveled briefly to Africa, it is easy to point out the simple differences. In other places, poverty is grindingly, debilitatingly powerful. People don't have enough to eat, can't get clean water, deal with incredible rates of disease and accidents because of the nature of the work they can get, the idae of food stamps or other forms of welfare would be the equivalent of a dream come true for them. So it is easy to say that the poor elsewhere have it harder than the poor in the US.
But in some ways, they are more similar than that. They both face closed doors and a feeling of being left out to fend for themselves. The downtrodden existence and empty feelings aren't necessarily improved by having cable TV or plenty of heavily processed artificially sweetened food to eat that will give you diabetes in ten years.
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