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The Reality of Poverty: Examining the Factors Beyond Personal Choice

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Imagine walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. For millions of people living in poverty around the world is a daily reality, the reality of poverty.

They are struggling to meet their basic needs for food, shelter, and safety, and are often faced with limited opportunities for employment, education, and a better future. Despite this, many people still view poverty as a choice or a personal failure, rather than the systemic problem that it truly is.

According to the World Bank, over 10% of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.90 per day. This is a staggering number, and yet poverty is still often misunderstood and stigmatized by those who have never experienced it. Let us examining the poverty factors that are beyond personal choice.

U.S. Poverty Statistics

According to the United States Census Bureau, in 2020, the poverty rate in the United States was 10.5%, which equates to 34 million people living below the poverty line. This is a decrease from the poverty rate in 2019, which was 10.8%. However, the poverty rate remains higher than it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a significant impact on the economy and resulted in job losses and reduced income for many families.

Additionally, the poverty rate is not evenly distributed across all groups in the United States. In 2020, the poverty rate was highest among people who identified as Black or African American, with a rate of 18.5%. The poverty rate for Hispanic people was 12.6%, while the poverty rate for white people was 8.3%.


It is important to note that these figures do not account for the full extent of poverty in the United States, as the poverty line is based on a narrow definition of income and does not take into account other factors such as housing costs, medical expenses, and food insecurity. Many people who are not considered to be living in poverty according to the official poverty line still struggle to make ends meet and access basic needs.

Poverty is a Systemic Problem

Poverty is not a personal failure or a choice, but rather a result of systemic inequalities and a lack of access to resources.

As Nobel Peace Prize winner and economist Muhammad Yunus says, “Poverty is not created by poor people. It is created by the system we have built.”

This system includes factors such as limited access to education and job opportunities, discrimination, and government policies that favor the wealthy.

Research has shown that poverty is a complex issue with many interconnected factors. For example, a lack of access to quality education can limit a person’s employment opportunities, which in turn affects their ability to earn a livable wage.

 Similarly, discrimination based on race, gender, or ethnicity can limit access to opportunities and resources. All of these factors contribute to the systemic nature of poverty.

The Consequences of Poverty

The consequences of poverty can be devastating, affecting every aspect of a person’s life. People living in poverty are more likely to suffer from poor health, lack access to proper nutrition and healthcare, and be more susceptible to crime and violence. They also face limited opportunities for education and employment, perpetuating the cycle of poverty from one generation to the next.

According to the World Health Organization, people living in poverty are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses and infectious diseases. They are also more likely to have limited access to proper nutrition, which can lead to malnutrition and other health problems. In addition, poverty can increase the likelihood of crime and violence, as people are often forced to resort to criminal activity in order to meet their basic needs.

The Role of Society in Addressing Poverty

To address poverty, it is crucial that society as a whole takes responsibility for creating a more equitable and just world. This includes addressing systemic inequalities, providing access to resources and opportunities, and promoting policies that support the most vulnerable members of society.

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres says, “We need a more inclusive, equitable and just world, one where no one is left behind. Only then will we be able to eradicate poverty in all its forms.”

The Government’s Role in Ending Poverty

The government also has a crucial role to play in ending poverty. This includes providing access to basic services such as healthcare and education, promoting job training and employment opportunities, and implementing policies that address income inequality and support low-income communities.

Governments have a responsibility to create policies and programs that address the root causes of poverty, rather than just providing temporary solutions. This includes investing in education, job training programs, and infrastructure in low-income communities. It also involves addressing income inequality and promoting equal access to opportunities and resources for all members of society.

The Problem with Illegal Substances and Drugs

Unfortunately, for many people living in poverty, drugs and illegal substances are often seen as a quick escape from their difficult reality. The availability of these drugs is often alarmingly high, with little or no effort made to stop their distribution. People may turn to these substances as a form of self-medication, to numb their pain or to escape the hardships of their daily lives.

According to the World Drug Report 2021 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the global drug market continues to grow, with estimated illicit drug sales of up to $445 billion in 2019. The report highlights the close connection between poverty and drug use, with those living in poverty being more vulnerable to the negative consequences of drug use and drug trafficking.

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The Consequences of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can have devastating consequences, both for the individual and for their community. It can lead to health problems, crime and violence, and can even exacerbate poverty. Substance abuse also puts a strain on healthcare systems, social services, and the criminal justice system.

However, the problem of drug use cannot be fully understood without examining the underlying conditions that drive people to turn to drugs in the first place. For many, drugs provide a temporary escape from the difficulties of daily life and offer a sense of relief from poverty and other hardships. This is a sad reality for those who are struggling to survive in communities where help is scarce.

As researcher and epidemiologist Dr. Carlos Hasselmann explains, “Drug abuse and addiction can lead to a range of physical, social, and psychological problems, from chronic health problems and increased risk of infectious diseases, to criminal behavior and decreased productivity.”

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the global illegal drug trade is worth approximately $435 billion per year. This massive industry provides drugs that are readily available to people in low-income communities, who are often struggling with poverty, unemployment, and limited access to resources.

The consequences of drug use can be devastating, leading to health problems, crime, and reduced opportunities for employment and education.

The Lack of Support for Substance Abuse Treatment

Despite the negative consequences of substance abuse, many people living in poverty do not have access to adequate support for treatment and recovery.

In some cases, people are reluctant to seek help due to a lack of trust in the government and a fear of being stigmatized. This lack of trust is not unfounded, as many low-income communities have historically been neglected by government. There may be limited resources available, or the cost of treatment may be prohibitively high. As a result, people may not seek help, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and substance abuse.

As addiction specialist and author Dr. Gabor Maté explains, “Addiction is a complex issue that cannot be addressed by simply punishing people to stop using drugs. Instead, we need to understand the underlying causes of addiction, and provide support and resources for those struggling with substance abuse.”

Despite efforts to address the drug problem, it remains a major challenge for many communities. In some cases, people are reluctant to seek help due to a lack of trust in the government and a fear of being stigmatized. This lack of trust is not unfounded, as many low-income communities have historically been neglected by government

The Need for a Holistic Approach to Addressing Poverty and Substance Abuse

To truly address poverty and substance abuse, a holistic approach is needed that addresses the root causes of both problems. This includes addressing systemic inequalities, promoting access to education and employment opportunities, and providing support for those struggling with substance abuse.

Poverty and substance abuse are intertwined problems that require a comprehensive, systemic approach. The government, society as a whole, and individuals all have a role to play in creating a more equitable and just world, where everyone has access to the resources and support they need to thrive.

As Nelson Mandela once said, “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”

The Availability of Illegal Drugs and Substances

The availability of illegal drugs and substances is a major issue that contributes to the problem of poverty and substance abuse.

In many cases, these drugs are easily accessible and provide a quick escape from the difficulties of daily life for those who are struggling. Unfortunately, this escape is often short-lived and leads to greater problems in the long term.

Despite efforts to crack down on drug trafficking, illegal drugs remain easily accessible in many areas, particularly in low-income communities. This availability only exacerbates the problem, making it even more difficult for people to break free from the cycle of poverty and substance abuse.

According to a report by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the majority of illegal drugs are smuggled into the country across the U.S.-Mexico border. However, drugs are also trafficked into the country through ports of entry and by mail. The DEA also reports that drug trafficking organizations are becoming more sophisticated, using new tactics to smuggle drugs into the country undetected.

The ease with which illegal drugs and substances can be obtained is a major problem that must be addressed in order to tackle poverty and substance abuse. Without reducing the availability of these drugs, it will be difficult to help those struggling with addiction and to break the cycle of poverty.

The Need for Better Drug Control Policies

To address the availability of illegal drugs and substances, it is necessary to implement effective drug control policies. This could involve cracking down on drug trafficking organizations, improving border security, and implementing measures to make it more difficult to obtain illegal drugs.

As former U.S. President Barack Obama has noted, “We need to recognize that the problem of drug abuse is not just a criminal justice issue, it is a public health issue. We need to provide treatment and support to those who need it, and we need to work together to reduce demand for drugs.”

It is also important to address the demand for illegal drugs and substances, by promoting healthy lifestyles and providing support for those struggling with addiction. By working together to reduce the demand for drugs and to make them less accessible, we can make a significant impact in the fight against poverty and substance abuse.

In conclusion, the truth about poverty is that it is not a choice, but an acceptance that is forced upon people due to a multitude of complex and interrelated factors. And the availability of illegal drugs and substances plays a major challenge in the fight against poverty and substance abuse.

To address this problem, a comprehensive approach is needed that addresses the root causes of poverty and empowers communities to have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives.  It is necessary to implement effective drug control policies and to work together to reduce the demand for drugs.

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