Millions of people around the world ask themselves, “Why am I poor?”. In fact, poverty affects 9.2% of the world’s population, making it one of the most pressing issues of our time. As of 2022, 12.4% of Americans lived in poverty, up from 11.2% in 2021 This marks the first increase in SPM poverty rates since 2010.
This is an unfortunate question that is laced with shame, frustration, and a desperate longing for more. It also deserves a thoughtful response, not a quick answer. After all, the cause of poverty is rarely a simple one. Rather, it is an intricate tapestry woven from individual choices, systemic realities, and historical threads.
Understanding the Roots of Poverty
To start unraveling this web, we must acknowledge that your question is valid. Poverty is a real struggle, and it should not be dismissed or minimized.
Now let’s look at the potential factors contributing to your financial situation.
In most cases, poverty is not caused by a personal failure. Many times, it is rooted in systemic inequalities that disadvantage certain groups based on their racial, economic, and social backgrounds. There are various ways in which these inequalities manifest, from unequal hiring practices to unequal access to quality education and healthcare.
As an example, Black and Latinx individuals are less likely to be approved for loans in the U.S., regardless of their creditworthiness.
Children growing up in poverty often have limited access to quality education, skills training, and professional networks. In turn, this can limit job opportunities and perpetuate poverty due to a lack of marketable skills.
Moreover, geographical location can have a significant impact. Poor infrastructure and limited job opportunities may make it difficult for individuals to escape poverty.
Often, poverty is a generational issue. A lack of quality education, health care, and nutritious food can prevent children from developing skills and knowledge that will help them break free.
A lack of parental wealth also limits investments, entrepreneurship, or higher education opportunities.
Individuals can be trapped in a cycle of debt by payday loans, high-interest credit cards, and predatory leasing contracts.
As an example, credit cards can charge borrowers rates from 28 to 36%, but payday loans can charge rates as high as 398%. Furthermore, many borrowers are unable to repay the loan within the two-week repayment period. In the end, they are sunk deeper and deeper into debt by borrowing or paying another installment of fees.
Poor financial decisions.
In some cases, it is necessary to look in the mirror to understand why we are poor. We can lose a lot of money if we make bad financial decisions.
Let’s say you’re addicted to credit cards and live beyond your means. If you cannot afford your bills and credit card payments, you can quickly fall into poverty.
According to a Clever Real Estate survey of 1,000 U.S. credit card users, approximately 3 in 5 Americans (61%) are suffering from credit card debt. The average credit card debt is $5,875. Suffice it to say, that you may fall into this group.
However, if you have made poor financial decisions that have caused financial hardship for yourself, it’s not the time to criticize yourself. Instead, think about what you can do to change your finanical situation
Not to be a Fear Mongor. But, unpredictability is a part of life, and it can strike at any time — despite how prepared you are. There are many types of emergencies that can leave families destitute, including medical emergencies, accidents, fires, natural disasters, and identity theft.
It is common for medical expenses to cause financial trouble and even bankruptcy, as can the destruction of your home or an injury that prevents you from working. Approximately 20% of Americans report having medical debt, and medical debt accounts for 62% of bankruptcies.
Ultimately, getting out of poverty becomes nearly impossible when you are trapped in a cycle of poverty caused by the crisis.
Breaking the Cycle of Poverty
To escape poverty, you must be determined, self-aware, and committed to continuous improvement. The following steps can help you get started.
Shifting the mindset.
Every journey begins with taking the first step, and in this case, shifting your mindset is the first step.
It may not be obvious to many of us. But, our relationship with money is often influenced by our beliefs, experiences, and societal conditioning. Depending on how we view it, it may be viewed as a scarce resource, a source of stress, or even a measure of our worth.
What if we were to rewrite the narrative? Imagine if we could cultivate a healthy money mindset, one that empowers us to make smart choices, achieve our financial goals, and experience abundant living.
That may seem impossible. However, you can change your money mindset by following these steps.
It’s time to shift the paradigm.
What is the first step to transforming your money mindset? Acknowledging your limiting beliefs. And, to start, ask yourself the following:
- What are the negative thoughts you have about money?
- Are you stuck in a scarcity mindset?
- Do you think you’ll never have enough money?
- Are you afraid to take risks?
- Have you ever felt guilty about spending money?
Often passed down from generation to generation or subconsciously incorporated into our minds, these narratives can sabotage our financial lives. It is possible, however, to challenge these limiting beliefs once you have identified them.
Rather than focusing on scarcity, let’s emphasize abundance.
The idea here is not that everyone is going to become wealthy instantly, but rather that there are enough resources and opportunities available for everyone. The key is to recognize your own potential and your value.
To put it differently, instead of focusing on what you lack, look at what you have. Even if you only possess a small savings account or a steady income, express gratitude for what you have. Also, consider affirmations like “I am worthy of abundance.”
Understanding your financial situation.
Changing your money mindset is a good start, but you must also take action. In particular, you need to assess your current financial situation. It means looking at your income, expenses, and debt honestly.
Understanding where your money is going will help you make informed decisions about saving, investing, and reaching your financial goals.
For a better understanding of your financial situation, follow these five steps:
Gather your financial documents.
Gather your bank statements, credit card statements, pay stubs, and any other documents that reflect your income and expenses. You will be able to get a complete picture of your financial situation by doing this.
Track your income and expenses.
In order to keep track of your income and expenses, you can use a variety of methods. If you want to budget, you can use an app, a spreadsheet, or even just a notebook. What matters is that you choose a method that works for you and stick to it. If you keep track of your spending, you might be surprised at what you find.
Calculate your net worth.
Essentially, your net worth is the difference between what you own and what you owe. Count all of your assets, including your car, your home, and your investments, to calculate your net worth. Next, list all your liabilities, such as credit card debt and student loans.
Taking the value of your assets and subtracting the value of your liabilities will give you your net worth.
Identify your financial goals.
Once you have identified your goals, you can begin developing a plan to achieve them.
Create a budget.
Budgets serve as a roadmap for your finances. In addition to housing, food, transportation, and entertainment, it helps you allocate your income to different categories. Budgeting methods vary, so choose one that works for you and your lifestyle.
When you understand your financial situation, you will be able to make informed financial decisions. Additionally, you can create a budget and plan to achieve your financial goals.
Don’t forget that taking control of your finances is a journey, not an endpoint. Despite bumps along the way, you will eventually reach your financial goals if you remain committed.
Give priority to your needs.
In times of limited resources, prioritization is essential. Ensure that basic needs are met first:
- Housing. Make sure your housing is safe and affordable. If necessary, look into shared housing or government assistance programs. To find local social services and referrals for emergency housing, dial 211 in most areas of the U.S.
- Food. Ensure that nutritious meals are available. Organize your meals, use budget-friendly recipes, and seek food assistance if necessary, such as SNAP benefits.
- Healthcare. Get essential medical checkups and preventive care as soon as possible. Whenever possible, look for free or low-cost healthcare options by visiting HealthCare.gov.
For progress to continue, these fundamental needs must be addressed.
Unlocking opportunities through education.
Economic mobility begins with education, the key to better jobs, higher incomes, and a more stable future. Make education a priority, whether formal or informal.
Get the skills and knowledge you need for today’s and tomorrow’s jobs by enrolling in vocational training programs, community colleges, and online courses. Don’t be deterred by the cost. Find out what scholarships, grants, and financial aid are available to you.
It is important to remember that knowledge is a lifelong investment. Moreover, one that will lead you toward financial stability.
It’s not just about degrees, but about building skills.
While formal education is important, practical skills are equally important. Take time to learn how to fix things around your home, cook healthy meals on a budget, manage your finances effectively, or gain a better understanding of technology.
By developing these skills, you can open doors to freelance gigs, side hustles, and even starting your own business.
Become financially literate.
When you don’t know enough about money, you’re more vulnerable to getting taken advantage of — especially since most schools don’t provide financial literacy training. As such, that means you need to educate yourself.
To begin with, make sure you understand these points:
- Understanding the basics of finance.
- What credit is, how it works, and how to responsibly build it.
- Choosing a financial product or institution should be based on your needs.
- The rights you have when it comes to banking and financial products.
Alternatively, you can visit the Financial Health Network. It’s a nonprofit that serves unbanked and underbanked people.
Make sure you are aware of your rights as well. Take advantage of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) resources. To ensure that banks, lenders, and other financial companies treat you fairly, this organization exists.
Eventually, you can use this knowledge to escape poverty.
Boosting your income.
In addition to managing expenses effectively, increasing your income will lead to greater financial stability. Here are some options to consider.
Level up your current gig.
- Negotiate your salary. If you want to renegotiate your salary, do your research, highlight your achievements, and present your case confidently. Keep in mind that the worst they can say is no. Don’t forget, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
- Upskilling. Learn new skills through online courses, workshops, or industry certifications. As you become a more valuable asset in your field, you can receive promotions, bonuses, and even be considered for headhunting.
- Consider side hustles. Corporate ladders don’t appeal to you? Consider a side hustle that complements your skillset and sparks your joy. With the right dedication, freelancing, consulting, or even launching your own Etsy shop can be surprisingly lucrative.
Diversify your income streams.
- Create your own content. Do you have a knack for writing, photography, or design? E-books, online courses, and even stock photos can be created and sold. By creating content on platforms such as Fiverr or Upwork, you can monetize your expertise.
- Earn a passive income. A passive income comes from investments, properties, or side hustles that do not require a lot of time and effort. Being in poverty may make this difficult. So, start by downloading these passive income apps.
- Sharing is caring. You may be able to rent out unused space on Airbnb or Turo if possible. However, you can also rent out anything from vehicles to parking spaces to baby equipment.
The key to boosting your income isn’t just working harder, but also working smarter. If you increase your income even a little bit, it will have a significant impact on your long-term financial goals.
Taking the plunge out of poverty as a community.
It is rare for poverty to be an individual struggle. As such, embrace community. There are lots of resources and support systems you can use:
- Government assistance programs. Financial assistance is provided by many government programs for food, housing, utility costs, healthcare, and education. Be sure to research eligibility requirements and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
- Non-profit organizations. The non-profit sector, like United Way, often provides financial counseling, skills training, and other resources to help people overcome poverty.
- Community support. Get in touch with supportive individuals who can offer assistance, guidance, and encouragement.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Seeking support can significantly accelerate your progress, and there’s no shame in doing so.
Take care of yourself.
It can be emotionally and mentally draining to escape poverty. That’s why you need to prioritize self-care.
Particularly, try to manage stress in a healthy way, like by exercising, meditating, or spending time outdoors. In addition, make sure you have a strong support system, including people who can listen to you and offer encouragement.
It is not selfish or a luxury to take care of yourself. For sustained progress, it is essential.
Empowering the Journey
The journey of breaking free from poverty is both challenging and rewarding. You can further empower your efforts by following these tips:
- Set realistic goals. Make small steps, celebrate your milestones, and don’t give up when you encounter setbacks. Progress is more important than perfection.
- Seek mentorship. Learn from individuals who have navigated poverty successfully.
- Embrace continuous learning. It is never too late to learn new skills or gain new knowledge. In an ever-evolving world, you need to remain adaptable and flexible.
- Build a support system. Put yourself in the company of positive, encouraging people who believe in your abilities.
- Ditch the comparison game. Every person’s financial journey is unique, so celebrate your wins no matter how big or small they may be. It’s important to be consistent. Don’t give up, keep learning, and keep your eyes on the prize.
- Celebrate your successes. No matter how small your accomplishments are, acknowledge them. Be proud of the progress you have made and the hard work you have put in.
It takes a lot of effort to break free from poverty. The road will be bumpy, there will be detours, and there will be doubts. You can rewrite your narrative by being resilient, resourceful, and having a supportive network.
Remember, as an individual, you have the power, the potential, and the right to claim your own version of success.
What is poverty?
It is possible to define poverty in different ways. However, it generally refers to living without the basic necessities of life, such as food, shelter, healthcare, and education.
What factors contribute to poverty?
- Structural factors. Individuals and families can be trapped in poverty by systemic issues like discrimination, limited career opportunities, and inadequate social safety nets.
- Individual circumstances. An unforeseen life event such as illness, a family emergency, a job loss, or mental health challenges can lead to financial instability.
- Financial literacy. The inability to budget, save, and manage debt can make it difficult for people to overcome financial hardships.
Is “the cycle of poverty” real?
It is true that poverty can be intergenerational. It is difficult for children raised in poverty to succeed in education, healthcare, and careers.
This cycle, however, is not inevitable. It is possible to break the cycle of poverty and create upward mobility by combining individual effort with supportive policies and access to resources.
What are the biggest challenges in breaking the cycle of poverty?
- Limited access to resources. For individuals living in poverty, affordable housing, quality education, and healthcare can be out of reach.
- Discrimination. Employment, education, and housing can all be restricted by racial, gender, and other forms of discrimination. This can exacerbate inequalities already present.
- Mental health barriers. People suffering from poverty may be unable to focus on their education, work, or seeking assistance due to stress, anxiety, and depression.
What can I do to break the cycle of poverty in my own life?
- Invest in education. Develop a skill or education that will lead to a well-paying job. Find out about scholarships, grants, and financial assistance programs.
- Develop financial literacy. You can manage your finances more effectively by learning how to budget, save, and invest. If necessary, seek financial counseling.
- Build a strong support network. You need people who support your goals and understand your challenges to ensure your success.
- Advocate for systemic change. Advocate and Support policies that address the root causes of poverty. Fair wages, affordable housing, and accessible healthcare are a few examples.