I think most would agree it is a fundamental error to lump all of the poor together as if they were a monolithic group. Not all people are poor for the same reasons, and therefore not all can ultimately be helped by the same means. There are many reasons people may be poor. Here are seventeen categories that I have encountered in my work. Perhaps you could add more:


  1. natural and social disasters (earthquakes, famine, flood, and war)
  2. insufficient natural resources
  3. personal catastrophe (family death, divorce, fire, jailed spouse)
  4. exploitation and oppression by others
  5. illness or physical disability
  6. gender inequality
  7. mental disability
  8. lack of knowledge or skill
  9. lack of needed technology or equipment
  10. inability to find work
  11. government corruption (and incompetence)
  12. substance addiction
  13. personal laziness
  14. wasteful self-indulgence
  15. consequences of wrong choices
  16. broken relationships (interpersonal conflict)
  17. world view (example: there are some cultures’’ whose concept of destiny discourages improving one’s circumstance.)

There are many ways to analyze and categorize the seventeen issues above. I wonder which ones you would categorize as “within the control” of the poor and which as “outside the control” of the poor? Which of these are issues fall primarily under the responsibility of the community/government and which are primarily family or individual responsibilities? 

Most people would agree that the help we give the poor should be tailor made/appropriate to the cause. If a person is poor because earthquake or flood has destroyed her home, the solution may be to give the person money, materials or assistance to help rebuild the home and reestablish the business. If someone is poor due to exploitation or oppression or injustice, we might offer immediate help while working for long term legal, social and economic reforms. If a person is poor because of a lack of knowledge/skill or opportunity then we might train, educate, and facilitate them. The good news is that some causes of poverty are clear and there are clear approaches(even if finding sustainable solutions can be evasive) to address them. There is also general agreement in humanitarian/social work professionals that giving short-term help without offering long-term solutions is unsustainable and almost always counter-productive. The bad news is that often poverty is caused by multiple, interwoven, and systemic root problems. They are not problems that go away even with wise investments, good strategies, hard work, and just governments (although these things will go a long way to reduce the problems).