Many of the poorest nations in the world were former colonies from which slaves and resources had been systematically extracted for the benefit of colonizing countries. Although there are notable exceptions (Australia, Canada and the U.S. being perhaps the most prominent), for most of these former colonies, colonialism and its legacies have helped create the conditions that prevent many people from accessing land, capital, education and other resources that allow people to support themselves adequately. In these nations, poverty is one legacy of a troubled history involving conquest.
War & political instability
Whatever the causes of war and political upheaval, it is clear that safety, stability and security are essential for subsistence and, beyond that, economic prosperity and growth. Without these basics, natural resources cannot be harnessed individually or collectively, and no amount of education, talent or technological know-how will allow people to work and reap the benefits of their labor. Laws are needed to protect rights, property and investments, and without legal protections, farmers, would-be entrepreneurs and business owners cannot safely invest in a country’s economy. It is a telling sign that the poorest countries in the world have all experienced civil war and serious political upheaval at some point in the 20th century, and many of them have weak governments that cannot or do not protect people against violence.
Many poor countries carry significant debt due to loans from wealthier nations and international financial institutions. Poorer nations owe an average of $2.30 in debt for every $1 received in grant aid. In addition, structural adjustment policies by organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund often require poorer nations to open their markets to outside business and investors, thereby increasing competition with local businesses and, many argue, undermining the potential development of local economies. In recent years, calls for debt reduction and forgiveness have been increasing, as activists see this as a key means of reducing poverty. The United Nations has also made it a priority to examine how economic structural adjustment policies can be designed to place less pressure on vulnerable populations.
Discrimination and social inequality
Poverty and inequality are two different things, but inequality can feed widespread poverty by barring groups with lower social status from accessing the tools and resources to support themselves. According to the United Nations Social Policy and Development Division, “inequalities in income distribution and access to productive resources, basic social services, opportunities, markets, and information have been on the rise worldwide, often causing and exacerbating poverty.” The U.N. and many aid groups also point out that gender discrimination has been a significant factor in holding many women and children around the world in poverty.
Vulnerability to natural disasters
In regions of the world that are already less wealthy, recurrent or occasional catastrophic natural disasters can pose a significant obstacle to eradicating poverty. The effects of flooding in Bangladesh, drought in the Horn of Africa and the 2005 earthquake in Haiti are examples of the ways in which vulnerability to natural disasters can be devastating to affected countries. In each of these cases, already impoverished people became refugees within their own countries, losing whatever little they had, being forced out of their living spaces and becoming almost completely dependent on others for survival. According to the World Bank, two years after Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar in 2008, the debt burden of local fishermen had doubled. The Solomon Islands experienced an earthquake and tsunami in 2007 and the losses from that disaster equaled 95 percent of the national budget. Without foreign aid, governments in these countries would have been unable to meet the needs of their people.
These are only five causes of poverty. They are both external and internal causes; both man-made and natural. Just as there is no single cause of poverty, there is no single solution. Nevertheless, understanding the ways in which complex forces like these interact to create and sustain the conditions of widespread global poverty is a vital step toward combating poverty around the world.
– Délice Williams
When Housing is Out of Reach
The nation is currently facing one of the most severe affordable housing crises in history. Not surprisingly, those living in poverty are the most significantly affected. In the 1970s, communities had plenty of affordable housing. That meant that when a family or individual experienced a crisis and lost housing, they could quickly find another place to live. But by the mid-1980s, the supply of low-cost housing had shrunk significantly. Since then, rents have continued to rise and lower-income people in particular have experienced slow or stagnant wage growth. Today, 8 million extremely low-income households pay at least half of their income toward housing, putting them at risk of housing instability and homelessness.
Income and Housing Affordability
Low income households often do not earn enough to pay for food, clothing, transportation and a place they can call home. Low-income households are typically unemployed or underemployed due to a number of factors, such as a challenging labor market; limited education; a gap in work history; a criminal record; unreliable transportation or unstable housing; poor health or a disability. For those who are low-income but employed, wages have been stagnant and have not kept pace with expensive housing costs. The typical American worker has seen little to no growth in his/her weekly wages over the past three decades. Too little income combined with the dwindling availability of low-cost housing leaves many people at risk for becoming homeless.
Connecting Homelessness and Health
An acute physical or behavioral health crisis or any long-term disabling condition may lead to homelessness; homelessness itself can exacerbate chronic medical conditions. A person can become chronically homeless when his or her health condition becomes disabling and stable housing is too difficult to maintain without help. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, people living in shelters are more than twice as likely to have a disability compared to the general population. On a given night in 2017, 20 percent of the homeless population reported having a serious mental illness, 16 percent conditions related to chronic substance abuse, and more than 10,000 people had HIV/AIDS.
Conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS are found at high rates among the homeless population, sometimes three to six times higher than that of the general population. People who have mental health and substance use disorders and who are homeless are more likely to have immediate, life-threatening physical illnesses and live in dangerous conditions. Also, more than 10 percent of people who seek substance abuse or mental health treatment in our public health system are homeless.
The issue of opioid abuse has risen to a level of national crisis as the number of people abusing prescription drugs and heroin has dramatically risen, and the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths has tripled since 2000. While the epidemic is notable for affecting people from any race, gender, socioeconomic status, its effects are felt in unique and notably harmful ways by people who are experiencing homelessness. Substance use disorders are known risk factors for homelessness, and substance abuse and overdose disproportionately impact homeless people.
A domestic violence experience is common among youth, single adults, and families who become homeless. For many, it is the immediate cause of their homelessness. Survivors of domestic violence may turn to homeless service programs seeking a safe temporary place to stay after fleeing an abusive relationship. Others may turn to homeless service programs primarily because they lack the economic resources to secure or maintain housing after leaving an abusive relationship.
On a single night in 2019, homeless services providers had more than 48,000 beds set aside for survivors of domestic violence.
Impact of Racial Disparities
Most minority groups, especially African Americans and Indigenous people, experience homelessness at higher rates than Whites, largely due to long-standing historical and structural racism. The most striking disparity can be found among African Americans, who represent 13 percent of the general population but account for 39 percent of people experiencing homelessness and more than 50 percent of homeless families with children. This imbalance has not improved over time.
From slavery to segregation, African Americans have been systemically denied rights and socioeconomic opportunities. Other minority groups, including Indigenous and Latinx people, share similar histories. The disproportionality in homelessness is a by-product of systemic inequity: the lingering effects of racism continue to perpetuate disparities in critical areas that impact rates of homelessness.
List provided by National Alliance to End Homelessness
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