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039: Not All Poverty Is Created Equal

not all poverty is created equal

Listen Here and Now for Not All Poverty Is Created Equal

Join us as we share thoughts about changing how we look at poverty in order to provide the appropriate solutions for different types of poverty.



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Quotable of the Week

“You can’t comfort the afflicted without afflicting the comfortable.”  — Diana, Princess of Wales

Get ready for some possible affliction.


Highlights from the Episode

Some facts about poverty

  • Nearly 1/2 of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day.
  • More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty — less than $1.25 a day.
  • 1 billion children worldwide are living in poverty.

The statistics start to make us feel like poverty is insurmountable.  It is easy to lose hope that poverty might come to an end. Yet, I learned in a very compelling documentary that extreme poverty might be eliminated in my generation.  In fact, in the last generation the extreme poverty rate was cut in half from 52% of the global population to 26%. In our generation we could go from 26% to 0%. A 2012 statistic I saw put extreme poverty at 18.4%.

We’re still talking about 1.3 billion people in extreme poverty and many, many more living below what we might call The Poverty Line (it’s 1/4 of the population where I live in Chicago).  All these numbers easily become cold statistics. It’s easy to throw everyone living in poverty in a pile and treat them all the same – give them handouts, pass laws for better education, etc.

Yet, when we look at real people’s stories of poverty, we begin to see how drastically different types of poverty there are…  Let me tell you 3 stories that showcase 3 different types of poverty.


Poverty Story #1

It’s 2005 and Hurricane Katrina has just struck New Orleans. Tarah and her two daughters Melle and Trin got out of New Orleans on a train before the storm hit but are displaced from their apartment.  Tarah had a minimum-wage job but now that’s gone. What little they could bring with them is all they have. This is an actual crisis. Tarah is not personally responsible. Tarah doesn’t have all the resources she needs to help herself and her two children.  To eliminate their immediate needs, they need immediate relief – food, water, and shelter.

What does hope look like for Tarah? Hope comes in the form of her brother in Illinois.

Thankfully, because Tarah is in the United States, she has a brother in Illinois she can stay with for awhile.

This kind of poverty is easiest to picture using a natural disaster as a cause but there are other causes.  The thing that characterizes this type of poverty is that it requires effective relief. By effective relief I mean temporary and immediate relief by means of essentials like food, water, shelter and medical care.  In Tarah’s case, her brother knows that she isn’t going to stay with him forever. He can provide food, water and shelter for the family temporarily but there would be serious strain if the assistance went on indefinitely.


Poverty Story #2

For the next kind of poverty, it’s 2018 in Chicago and we meet Sam on the street.  A few years ago Sam was the victim of a hit and run. He didn’t have medical insurance so he mounted up huge medical bills.  Both the physical and financial effects of the incident caused a downward spiral of worry, fear, unhealthy eating and drinking.  This spiral got so out of control that Sam couldn’t focus at work and lost his job. Unable to pay his bills, Sam was evicted from his apartment.  With no one to go to, Sam is out on the streets trying to figure out what to do. He’s confused and doesn’t know who to trust. Sam lives in poverty.  

What does hope look like for Sam?

Sam might have a few immediate needs that need to be met with relief – food, water, shelter, medicine.  What he really needs is not a bunch of handouts over and over again. Sam needs rehabilitation. He needs to grow and learn.  He needs someone to trust in who can help him deal with or find a counselor to help him deal with the emotions and psychological issues that caused him to go on this downward spiral.  As he’s growing, learning, and healing, he needs a job to do that’ll help him practice skills like focus and showing up on time. As he makes this transition, he’ll also need a place to live.  


Poverty Story #3

Let’s take the story of Akim.  Akim is a Kenyan charcoal seller.  He works very hard to make charcoal to sell and is very proud of his business.  But he doesn’t yet make enough money to be completely out of poverty. He and his family still live on his meager profits.  The problem is that lots of Kenyans make and sell charcoal. The market is flooded with charcoal, which keeps the prices low and no one can make enough money.  Akim lives in poverty.

What does hope look like for Akim?

To give Akim and his family relief – food, water – would only be good for as long as it lasts and would keep them from supporting their local food supplies.  Akim doesn’t need rehabilitation – he knows the basics of having his own business. Akim needs development. He needs to be inspired to and to learn how to go into a different business.  If charcoal is never going to pay him enough money, he needs to be in a different line of business that will at least make him enough money to provide for his family.

This could mean a governmental incentive for charcoal workers to do something different.  This could look like a grant or loan program for charcoal sellers to go to a trade school. Or this could look like a new invention – an alternative to coal – that Akim can make and sell. This would be more of a system change that benefits Akim and many others.

The Point of These Poverty Stories

To kick off this series about poverty we wanted to start with this way of thinking about poverty that I learned from some old people who’ve spent their lives fighting poverty.  To me their ideas seem more hopeful than other ways of thinking about poverty. Here’s a link to their book.

The idea is summarized easily in this phrase: “Not all poverty is created equal.”  We tend to think of and treat poverty as one really big, insurmountable obstacle to having a perfect world when poverty really is multi-faceted.  “Not all poverty is created equal” means that there are different types of poverty depending on their cause, the length of time they’ve existed, and how to eliminate the poverty.  

These types of poverty and their aid requirements can be summarized in 3 words: Relief. Rehabilitation. Development.

Often, we lose hope in eliminating poverty because we’re only thinking about and doing relief.  Relief is what we hear about on the news and see in commercials. Relief is the easiest part of this chart to do and to get donor money for.  It’s easy to show off relief work and say, “We fed 100,000 people this year” or “We built 100 homes.”

Yet, only a small percentage of the global population are experiencing an immediate crisis that they’re not personally responsible for and can’t help themselves get out of – only a small percentage of those living in poverty need relief.  Yet, those of us not in poverty do lots of relief work. If someone doesn’t need relief but instead needs rehabilitation or development, and yet we give them relief anyway, we can do more harm than good – for them and ourselves. They don’t get what they really need and we lose hope because we don’t see much getting better.

That’s the problem.  What we like to do to fight poverty doesn’t match up with what’s really needed.  Let me share a possible solution. I think this solution might bring hope for those of us who are disillusioned about fighting poverty.  


The idea is to do rehabilitation and relief work using a developmental approach.  

When we give relief or provide rehabilitation, we can ensure the participation of those we’re trying to help.  We can treat people as the responsible stewards we want them to be. This also means that if the people we’re trying to help can address the problem themselves, we should let them.  Only if they need help, should we help them. The idea here is: “Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves.”

By way of example, let’s say we wanted to start a soup kitchen to feed the hungry in Chicago.  This is a form of relief. How could we do this is in a developmental way? We might set up a way in which those receiving the food help prepare the food and clean up afterward.  We might ask them what kind of food they like or  take someone along with us to pick up the food we’re going to prepare. Once the food is ready, everyone would sit down to enjoy it – even those not living in poverty.  Over the meal, conversation would happen.

Development would mean doing the soup kitchen not to the people or for the people but with the people.  The key dynamic in development is promoting an empowering process in which everyone involved becomes better people.

So, relief, rehabilitation, and development are all needed to fight different types of poverty.  Plus, relief and rehabilitation can be done in a developmental way.


Here’s an action step:

Bring to mind a familiar community that experiences poverty.  Write a few sentences to describe their suffering. How could you help alleviate their poverty in a developmental way?  If you don’t feel like you’re familiar with a community that experiences poverty, make this a purely creative challenge.  Then go out and make some new friends by connecting with a community experiencing poverty. This is a great way to enrich your life.


One final thing.

 We’re very passionate about ending poverty.  According to a recent report published by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, 33 percent of current workers in America aged 55 to 64 are likely to be poor or near-poor in retirement based on their current levels of retirement savings and total assets.  The researchers suggest that the issue of poverty in retirement is only going to get worse.

You might be familiar with terms like the Federal Poverty Line or ALICE from the United Way.  ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Try searching “Poverty in the United States” to learn more about how poverty is defined and different estimates of poverty levels in the USA.  What you’re likely to find is that poverty is a real big issue.

Even though globally extreme poverty is shrinking, poverty and near-poverty seem to be growing here in America. We believe it might become a huge issue within our lifetime if something isn’t done about it.  So we are doing something about it. We’re offering complimentary financial analysis for you who are listening right now.

Many financial advisors target those who have large assets or high incomes.  That’s not us. We want to work with anyone who is committed to ensuring they don’t experience poverty, regardless of their current assets or debts.  If that’s you, we invite you to schedule an analysis at

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