Poverty vs. Poor: What’s Your Attitude?


I visited with our local public school Deputy Superintendent yesterday. Among the many challenges he mentioned facing the K-12 education system was the challenge of teaching children of poverty. When one of our small group asked about the percentage of children who receive free and reduced lunches in our school district, the Deputy Superintendent was quick to point out to us the difference between children who are poor and children of poverty.

So what’s the difference between being poor and living in poverty?

Poor: People who have a low income are poor. This may be due to choice of career, hard times, or other circumstances. They may or may not be able to pull out of their situation. However, they are as likely as those earning higher incomes to strive for the future, to hope for more. They may value education for the future benefits it affords.

Poverty: Living in poverty includes a survivalist attitude. People living in poverty may be extremely mobile because they’ve had to be. They may be able to move everything they own in 24 hours if they can’t make rent. It can be difficult to impress upon children of poverty the value of sacrificing today to get educated for some uncertain tomorrow.

The school official went on to explain that because the poverty mentality favors the moment over the long term, things that provide entertainment value are important. It’s hard to imagine why someone struggling to put food on the table would (or could) have a 60″ plasma flat screen.

Has America as a whole bought into poverty thinking?

Isn’t that really what all this credit mess is about?
Who cares about the bill? That’ll come tomorrow. Just give me my toys today.

Real poverty is a lot more complicated than that, but I wonder what promotes the attitude among those who have so much. Many of us may indeed become poor (or at least relatively so) in the next year. What worries me more are those of us who are affluent (again, at least relatively) operating with a poverty mentality.

  • I’m sure we’ll be seeing a movement to even if people are not consider “poor”, their attitudes may be very similar to one who is.. Frugality seems to be an up and coming trend.

  • NashEntLaw

    Very enlightening post – a great thought provoker. Thanks!

  • ThatNerdFromHighSchool

    I know a lot of affluent yet poverty stricken people…lease everything so their sum total net worth may actually be negative…but they have a lot of “stuff”, I guess my sharecropper grandparents instilled in my father so I have also learned…”If you ain’t got no money don’t buy it”. SO all my stuff rich friends are whining these past couple weeks why my not so big house (paid for) and my not so fancy American car(s) (not leased) is taking (took) advantage of the falling markets.

  • Chaz

    Unfortunately, this article is not even close to getting it right. I’m not even sure that I can but here are my thoughts in a nut shell. First off, the word “poor” is a relative term. What are you comparing it against? What are the standards? You can have a million dollars in the bank and be considered “poor” next to Bill Gates. Also, you can be poor in spirit, as mentioned in the Bible. You can be a poor sport, too! Poverty, on the other hand, is not so ambiguous of a word. All people who live in poverty are poor but not all poor people live in poverty. It’s way more than running up credit cards. It’s way more than just not eating out whenever you like or not making your rent for a few months. It’s way more that that. Do you have access to clean water? Do you have access to housing? Do you have access to food and clothing? Do you have access to an income of some sort? Do you have access to medical attention? Usually, people who live in poverty don’t choose to live this way. Sometimes people that are “poor” do choose to live that way, but they don’t live in poverty. The main difference is whether or not basic human needs are met. In the United States I would argue that it would be a rare case to find absolute poverty though you find many poor. We have the homeless but even most of the homeless are poor but are not in absolute poverty, though we should care for them regardless of how they entered their plight. Poverty vs Poor: it’s more than just an attitude it is a very unfortunate way of life for many people around the world.