What It Means to Live in Absolute Poverty

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What It Means to Live in Absolute Poverty
What It Means to Live in Absolute Poverty


Imagine your daily routine: Do you brush your teeth or take a shower? Do you grab a coffee on your way to work? Drive your car? Pay bills? Shop for groceries? Now imagine that you have less than $2 a day to accomplish those tasks. Suddenly, obtaining even the most basic essentials — food, clean water, electricity, shelter — seems out of reach.

Despite the impossibility of living on so little, more than 700 million people globally manage to survive on just $1.90 a day or less. This is called absolute poverty, and while the term may seem almost self-explanatory, living in absolute poverty is a much more complex problem than the lack of money. Being born into these circumstances, many families lack the knowledge or opportunities to lift themselves out. Living in survival mode means experiencing limiting daily challenges that compound into a cycle, making it incredibly difficult to escape because those challenges directly prevent the pursuit of economic uplift. When you live in absolute poverty, meeting the minimum requirements for basic needs is a daily, sometimes hourly, struggle. Things like food, safe drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, and housing are often scarce or even outright unattainable.

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What does it mean to live in absolute poverty?

When we talk about absolute poverty, we’re talking about a condition characterized by a severe lack of basic human needs over a prolonged period of time. What many of us take for granted — clean water from the faucet, a roof over our heads, several meals a day —  is an impossible struggle for those facing absolute poverty. In fact, they will have limited or no access to these basic needs:

  • Food and nutrition
  • Clean drinking water
  • Adequate housing or shelter
  • Education and information
  • Basic healthcare

Also known as extreme poverty or abject poverty, absolute poverty isn’t necessarily caused by one deciding factor. Often, it’s a combination of circumstances such as unemployment, political and civil conflict, social inequality, natural disasters, disease, and more that culminate in an endless cycle that’s difficult to escape. The solution is usually multi-tiered, and having a job does not necessarily guarantee reprieve from absolute poverty. According to the United Nations, 8% of employed workers and their families worldwide lived in extreme poverty in 2018. Absolute poverty also disproportionately affects children, with one out of five kids living in this condition.

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Absolute Poverty vs. Relative Poverty

Absolute poverty is often confused with relative poverty, but the terms are not interchangeable. Relative poverty refers to a household income that falls a particular percentage below the median income. In other words, if you’re living in relative poverty, you lack the minimum income needed to maintain your society’s average standard of living. While not nearly as extreme as absolute poverty, relative poverty still affects 46.2 million Americans, with 22% of the population under the age of 18 living in this condition.

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How Homes Can Help

We’re firm believers that homes can create futures for children in absolute poverty, and here’s why: Having a place to live promotes safety, health and sanitation, education, and community. When you have a safe shelter, you have personal security — one of the most basic deficiency needs that includes protection from the elements, stability, and freedom from fear. Having a home complete with proper restrooms also means water contamination is less likely, greatly reducing the risk of illness. Finally, when people (specifically children) have a roof over their heads, they have somewhere to study and get a good night’s sleep — factors that significantly improve their ability to focus on schoolwork and complete their education.

What You Can Do

For families living in poverty, even a small donation can make a monumental impact. When you contribute to a charitable organization like New Story, you’re giving people the foundation they need to escape the in-opportune cycle of survival-mode living. That’s because New Story works with local partners to build holistic communities around the world using innovative technology and a completely transparent donation model. When, for example, you give to homebuilding, 100 percent of that money goes directly to building a home for a family in need. And with your help, we can hope to end global homelessness for the one billion people who are living without adequate shelter.



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