There is no nice way to say poverty.
Poverty is a strong word, stronger than being poor; want is still stronger, indicating that one has not even the necessaries of life ; indigence is often stronger than want, implying especially, also, the lack of those things to which one has been used and that befit one’s station ; penury is poverty that is severe to abjectness ; destitution is the state of having absolutely nothing …. [Century Dictionary]
late 12c., poverte, “destitution, want, need or insufficiency of money or goods,” from Old French poverte, povrete“poverty, misery, wretched condition” (Modern French pauvreté), from Latin paupertatem (nominative paupertas) “poverty,” from pauper “poor” (see poor (adj.)).
From early 13c. in reference to deliberate poverty as a Christian act. Figuratively from mid-14c., “dearth, scantiness;” of the spirit, “humility,” from the Beatitudes.
The greater – and more unsettling – obstacle to the description of poverty is I have discovered paradoxically a combination of two elements; namely, plentitude and ineptitude. I am uncertain which of them is the more sizeable disgrace or misfortune.
Seeing so much poverty everywhere makes me think that God is not rich. He gives the appearance of it, but I suspect some financial difficulties. [Victor Hugo, “Les Misérables,” 1862]
The appearance of the world for those of us who live day to day touched only by the achievement of our next meal, interrupted by images of frivolity and expenditure, is far removed from the isolated state of those in constant penury. Poverty is a private and often embarrassing situation, disjointed from the gloating consumption of popular commercial society. It’s difficult to imagine relevancy of the poor with someone whose interest is proclaiming their latest purchase.
The assumption that the inscrutable remedy to poverty is education is wrong. This is in turn punctuated by the mistaken perception that any of the other usual characteristics of advantage – such as middle class family background, natural beauty and health – are fortuitous. Even equipped with these seeming ingredients of luck and fortune, failure and want are not inescapable. Sometimes the perpetual condition of poverty is spirited by an abuse of the opportunity or calculation of improvement. I am the first however to sanction the inadequacy of even the most treasured ingredients. Indeed it is often the availability of nourishment which prolongs the austerity of sensibility. In a word, some people just don’t think; or, they persist in pretence. Both are misguided; both predict ultimate want.
Contrasting this dynamic of poverty is that of outright indigence. For example, single mother’s with young children, trying to earn a living in the service industry, to put food on the table and to pay the rent. Theirs is an endless uphill battle. They haven’t time for fanciful performances of any nature. It is hand to mouth with nothing in between.
For the poor there is welfare. That is the nature of our modern society. It enables the rich to put aside the poor with a degree of expiation. Welfare is however an entitlement at a cost for both society and the recipient. It is a strategy which does not overcome the root cause but merely sterilizes it. There is no ambition for elevation or withdrawal from the underlying contamination. It simply prolongs the condition and preserves the quarantine.
To view poverty as a disease further enhances the removal of others from its dilution or recovery.
In the end I am left with the penetrating and distilled observation that the universe is ultimately personal. Contrasting this sad state of affairs is the equally frequent account of those who, in the face of seeming limitless restriction and challenge, have raised themselves and others above the initial boundaries, often without the orthodox features of success. This is not meant to belittle those who, in spite of their fortuity, suffer mental or physical impediment. The plain truth – and one we often prefer to ignore – is that I have known a young lawyer from the Village of Rockcliffe Park who was destitute. Likewise I have heard stories of impoverished drunks with professional credentials. One is no more bred into sustainable wealth than unassured poverty.
But – by paramount contrast – there remain those who are the authors of their own misfortune, people who absent themselves from ingenuity and rational deduction and who wantonly rely upon family or society to retrieve them from their self-inflicted poverty. For them I have little interest or beneficence.