October 17th marks the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which was established by the United Nations to raise awareness about how we can end persistent poverty through sustainable, empowering initiatives. This year, it is all the more important to educate ourselves about poverty because the facts are staggering: the World Bank estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing between 88 and 115 million people into poverty, a number that might rise to between 143 and 163 million when 2021 is taken into account. The financial impact of the crisis is particularly harsh in South Asian and Sub-Saharan countries, which already have high poverty rates with which to contend.
Poverty is not just about money. Poverty is a multifaceted issue that often entails the loss of basic human rights, like nutritious food, safe working conditions, fair representation, access to justice, housing, and healthcare. And as Richard V. Reeves notes in his book Dream Hoarders, “The problem we face is not just class separation, but class perpetuation. There are two factors driving class perpetuation at the top: the unequal development of ‘market merit’ and some unfair ‘opportunity hoarding.’” These two factors describe a phenomenon where the upper 20% of American society keeps educational and skill-learning opportunities to themselves through unfair selective processes like college admissions and job referrals. In other words, although we would like to believe that the rags-to-riches story is possible for anyone who sets their mind to it, modern American society largely prohibits class mobility. Unequal investment in the population is mirrored in other societies to varying degrees, making it a global problem.
Thus, instead of “building back better,” the United Nations points toward the desire of those living in extreme poverty to instead “build forward.” What can we do to create a system in which structural disadvantages and inequalities do not exist? Those of us in power have to make space for those of us living in poverty to have a voice in decision-making processes at all levels of government and organization. Only with their input can a team of people make choices that will truly end poverty and build better communities.
To learn more about poverty and how we can combat it, we have assembled three more resources below:
- Time will not heal: 5 ways to address the inheritance of Black poverty, starting now by Richard Reeves
- Nations United: Urgent Solutions for Urgent Times | Presented by Thandie Newton
- Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenrich
Let’s honor this day by spending ten minutes reading Reeves’s article, thirty-four minutes watching the United Nations documentary, or purchasing a book that will keep educating us for several days. The more we know, the more we can do to help.