Poverty as “Acute Financial Distress”

This post by James Abro on the Talk Poverty blog resonates with our experience at Public Works. So much of the public’s attitudes about government are intertwined with attitudes about people living in poverty. Many Americans immediately cue up a barrage of unhelpful stereotypes when they hear the terms “poor” or “poverty,” making it virtually impossibleWar on Poverty to have a meaningful conversation about what poverty actually is much less why it requires public solutions. In our workshops we often caution advocates and others to lead with the intrinsic human value of everyone (i.e., “people” or “citizens” or “residents”) and to use more meaningful and less stigmatized phrases like “those who can’t make ends meet” or “families struggling to pay their bills.” Perhaps Abro is on to something when he recommends using the phrase “acute financial distress.” Here’s a snippet of his reasoning:

First of all, we should stop calling it “poverty”—in political campaigns or otherwise. It is people in “acute financial distress.” When we hear of people in distress we want to help them. When we hear that they are poor we ignore them because of all of the stigmas associated with being poor.  “Acute financial distress” is a more accurate term too—it connotes a temporary predicament shared by many in our “new economy.” Poverty, on the other hand, is misperceived as a permanent condition, even though people slip in and out of being poor. Having experienced acute financial distress, including being homeless, I think this is the central issue and major roadblock to eliminating poverty—the stigma that goes along with “being poor.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *