Social Question

jerv's avatar

Does ending poverty cost less than letting it continue?

Asked by jerv (31061points) July 14th, 2011

I just came across “this article” about how poverty costs British Columbia ~$9,000,000,000 per year. I am curious how much truth there is to this, how much it is true of/in America, and basically what you all think about this.

So, what are your thoughts?

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21 Answers

roundsquare's avatar

In the long run, yes. In the short run, no. Ending poverty isn’t about giving people money. Its about building infrastructure, changing people’s mentality, improving schools, etc… It’s a huge project.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

What governments should do to end poverty is stop handing out money for the sake of handing it out. In the US here if they took some of that money and put it in an entrepreneur discipleship or mentoring program where captains of industry, etc, could gain a tax break for their involvement, they could show the poor how to go from paycheck to paycheck consumers to being entrepreneurs and business people. Give a man a fish he will eat for a day, teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

Jaxk's avatar

Unfortunately our welfare system is designed to keep people in poverty. The normal progression is to start working when you’re young and progress up the ladder. The typical American will reach their peak earning years in their 50s. But if you get into welfare when you’re young, it becomes more difficult to get off. If you take a full time job, even at low wages, you begin to lose welfare benefits. So working doesn’t improve your life much, if at all over not working. The older you get the less likely you are to ever leave the welfare system. That’s how we get to generational welfare. The kids fall into the same trap as thier parents.

Clinton ended welfare in 1996 (mostly) and the poverty level shrank. In all honesty it was a time of tremendous growth which makes the whole thing easier. We seem to have fallen back into the trap but I’m not sure the same plan would work in today’s environment. Nonetheless, we need to find a way to encourage people to leave welfare rather than encouraging them to continue. A sticky problem.

roundsquare's avatar

@Jaxk You think this plan would work? I’ve often wondered this…

dabbler's avatar

I think it boils down to the fact that even if the governments provide zero direct benefits to the poor, they cost more especially in health costs to everyone else who is exposed to the diseases that come back in impoverished groups. Diptheria, Cholera, ...diseases we thought we left behind come back among the most impoverished. Tuberculosis is a prime example of a disease that is worth treating in anyone who gets it, because treating everyone to whom they could pass TB is much more expensive.
Crime control gets expensive too when there is a portion of the population with nothing to lose. You can spend it on schools and job-training or you can spend it on courts and prisons and the direct costs of crime.

CWOTUS's avatar


What do you think poverty is, anyway? It’s a serious question.

Do you think it is “just” ‘not having money’? Because that’s not really what poverty is. It would be an interesting (and cruel) experiment to give a longitudinal cross-section of a large population “equal means”. That is, start everyone out with, oh, $100,000 or so of free money.

The interesting (and cruel) part of that would be watching how many of those people simply self-destructed because of the lack of constraints. How many of them would be worse off than before? How many would not only lose the $100K, but would lose more than that (due to mis-handling credit that would have been extended to them, gambling losses, etc.)?

It really is true, you know, that “poverty is a state of mind”. Unless you can get inside the minds of those who live in and accept “poverty” you will never end it. On this the Bible was correct: “The poor you have with you always.” I’ve been dirt-poor before, but never “in poverty”. On the other hand, I could take you for a ride through parts of Connecticut and show you some folks with fine houses and cars and toys – who really live in poverty, and probably always will.

I don’t have a solution, unfortunately. But I do know that the solution isn’t to throw more money at the problem. We’ve tried that in the USA since I was a small boy – since earlier than that, even – and the problem only worsens.

jerv's avatar

@CWOTUS For purposes of this question, I am considering poverty to be an inability to afford the basic life necessities on your own due to unemployment, under-employment, or disability.

Jaxk's avatar


The part about ‘never tell the truth’, is accurate. I do think we make welfare and unemployment too easy. I know it is cheaper to just mail the checks or credit cards but it seems to encourage people to just wait for the next check. If they had to go get it, at least they would be reminded that it is not just an entitlement but something they need to think about.

jerv's avatar

@Jaxk There is no unemployment office anywhere near where I live, and the last time I collected, my claim was in another state anyways. Do you honestly expect me to travel 2,500 miles each way to pick up my check, or are you willing to make exceptions in cases where doing so isn’t feasible?

I agree in principle, but like many good ideas, it wouldn’t work well in practice.

Jaxk's avatar


I’m not sure what your issue is but mailing checks is a relatively recent development (for me anyway but then I’m old). I believe they used to just forward it to the your unemployment office. I could be wrong about that. But the whole idea was to make looking for a job an integral part of the process. Now days it merely seems to be a game. Let me be clear however, that I don’t see this as a penalty or some way to degrade those looking for a job but rather as a way to keep them focused on looking for a job.

jerv's avatar

@Jaxk I think it just depends on where you live. Different states operate differently, and some situations are odd. Now, if we are talking someone who lives in an urban area with local offices accessible by public transit, that is one thing. However, not all places have offices that are within an hours drive, and interstate claims would be a bitch.

I wouldn’t mention it if I hadn’t been in both of those situations before.

Jaxk's avatar


I don’t mean to sound harsh but if picking up your check is too difficult, don’t pick it up or get a job.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Jaxk Many people on public assistance cannot work due to disabilities, don’t be so harsh

Jaxk's avatar


I’ll give you slack on the disabilities. Generally that is long term anyway and not job issue.

dabbler's avatar

I think poverty is untreated tuberculosis.
I think poverty is people have no place to bathe, no way to wash their clothes.
I think poverty is being hungry to the detriment of your health.
I think poverty is having no medical resources except what you find in the dumpster behind the walmart.
I think poverty is not being able to see a doctor until it’s too late.

If people who control key resources are at all civilized, especially the most selfish will have a demanding aesthetic and won’t want to see poverty in their midst.
One way is to wall yourself into a fiefdom that conforms to your fashion and keeps all those people with tuberculosis somewhere else.
Or resources can be applied so that everybody is in the middle class. And everything is pleasant, for everyone. Yes, even the slackers, who would otherwise be on the sidewalk with tuberculosis, there where you’re walking.

If there is good leadership people will be happy to serve the common cause because ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ is a very real result for everybody when we get it together.
Our cities are way too big for us to ignore sick people in our midst.
It’s not cost-effective.

And I don’t believe there is a single aspect of that philosophy that is contrary to making a profit in enterprise. Healthy prosperous people buy stuff. They work more effectively. it’s good for business.
For US small companies, – the kind that aren’t big enough to outsource information worker jobs overseas, the kind that want manufacture something and do it properly, the kind that benefit most from people who stick around for a couple decades with deep institutional knowledge – the added burden of having to provide one way or another, health care to employees, with commercial insurance as a middleman, is huge.
Yes costs will be shifted, not disappear, but there could be no greater boon to local business than to have good medical care and good schools for their employees provided in a common cost-effective way.

augustlan's avatar

@Jaxk Picking up your check from another state is just not feasible, especially for the truly poor who have no way to get there. In our area, they now use debit cards and electronic fund transfers to handle it. Much better, IMO.

In many ways poverty does cost more, yes. Even just on an individual level… When you’re poor and have no access to transportation, you end up taking a taxi to look for work. Not exactly cost-effective. And if you find work, how then do you afford to commute daily? When grocery shopping, you can’t afford to buy the larger containers of food and paper products, so you end up paying a premium to buy the smallest container available. In poverty stricken neighborhoods, people often have to buy their food from a convenience store rather than a grocery store, again paying a premium. (I’ve been well-off, and I’ve been dirt poor, so I have some experience with this.)

On a societal level, there are other issues. Crime is a big one. Health is another. If you have no access to routine health care, you end up waiting until things get really bad and use the emergency room. Who pays for that? We all do.

ETpro's avatar

@jerv Great question. As you can see form the discussion you’ve gotten, there aren’t any real easy answers and getting agreement on any approach in today’s America is going to take a very strong leader.

@CWOTUS mentioned the experiment with a direct stipend. To bolster that point, I was riding with my son, don’t know what radio program he had on, but a couple of talk show guys were discussing sports, and one made the comment that over half of all major league athletes are bankrupt within 5 years of retiring. Even ones that made $100 million or more in their career end up broke. I’ve read since that 60% of retired NBA players go broke and live in poverty, so I’d guess the radio announcer was right.

That information eliminates any thought of simply handing out a $100K grubstake to someone who is poor, and thinking that’s fixed the problem. Education is the key. Instead of dismantling public education, fix it. Make it interesting. Make it fun to be in school and cool to excel. Have school year-round, with a two-week summer vacation. In school, teach people how to manage money and how to work. Teach entrepreneurship (I love @Hypocrisy_Central‘s idea of tax cuts for business owners that volunteer. I’m old enough now I would volunteer).

Not everybody can or even should be an entrepreneur. We need a good labor force or new start-ups can’t find the people they need to make their business really fly. But we could certainly help prepare those who have the inclination and ability to succeed at being their own boss.

Of course, we have to recognize that there are going to be people among us who are mentally of physically handicapped, or who suffer mental disease and who honestly cannot work. The true measure of a society is not how well it rewards the best and brightest in it. They rise to the top where ever they land. They should be rewarded, and they are. The true measure of a society is how it treats the least within it.

Yes, solving poverty costs money, but tolerating it, ensuring that it remains a generational problem and that it slowly grows, policies that do this are far more costly than the cure.

jerv's avatar

@ETpro Small problem there; uneducated people are easier to exploit, and less likely to rebel at least in any effective manner than educated folks. However, that is another rant for another time/place.

As for those athletes, remember that they earned every single penny and actually deserve more since, if it wasn’t for them, those who maintain the stadiums/arenas and crew the concession stands would not have jobs. Besides, all of that mad spending causes a hell of a trickle-down effect.~

I think that you can guess the odds of a successful anti-poverty policy ever being enacted by the number of people and companies that squander their future for the sake of quick profits.

roundsquare's avatar

@jerv Anti-poverty probably has to happen from the ground up with individuals who feel like they should help out providing poor people with the means to dig themselves out if they so choose. This means things like banking accounts that don’t screw you over, short term interest free emergency loans, employment with at least minimal benefits and a support network to help when the shit hits the fan.

@ETpro If you think its tough in the America, just try solving poverty in other parts of the world. I played that game for a year and I can tell you the biggest problem: the people who have the money don’t care (with a good number of exceptions, of course). They say nice things and give some money to charity and feel great about themselves but all their doing is putting a band-aid on a leg they amputated.

Edit: US—> America

ETpro's avatar

@jerv Yes, I know how unlikely it is that the Gospel og Greed will let loose iots grip on life in America without another storming of the Bastille. Sad.

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