What is poverty?

Note: before reading this entry, I admit and state that I am a fickle kid who got everything he wanted from his parents, and who had never -or hardly ever- suffered any of these poverties I am talking about.

Abstract: Meaning of poverty seems to be something easy and automatic. At least in my case, until more or less four years ago, I related it to scarcity. Nevertheless, during the last years I have been more focused on another kind of poverty, more related to precariousness. Finally, during these last four months I have been living in Manila, I have noticed another different -or additional- dimension of poverty: stress.

Keywords: poverty, scarcity, precariousness, stress


(First meaning: scarcity) Generally, when we think about poverty the picture of an African black starving emaciated kid -sometimes with a vulture included- comes to our minds. This is the idea of poverty introduced in our schools, high schools and even universities. This is the main developing of the idea of poverty in occidental societies, and I would also say that this is the meaning of poverty for most people, at least in these countries.

(Second meaning: precariousness) Nevertheless, the global crisis raised since 2006 that severely hit -and it is still hitting- Spain introduced a new factor or a different meaning of poverty: precariousness. Many people, and especially young people, do not have feeding problems, they have a home -normally their parents’ one- and they even have high education, leisure and job. Nevertheless, the demographic structure of the country and the very crisis made these jobs precarious, with low salaries, with the obligation of major labor mobility and without any long-term security. With these conditions, people cannot think about purchasing a house, having a stable partner or having children. In other words, this second meaning of poverty -precariousness if preferred- removes the future plans of its victims.

(Third meaning: stress) There are two worlds in Manila, and even if there are different sub-worlds into them, the boundary between these two worlds is physically perceptible: the world of the poor people and the world of the rich people. While the latter is very similar to the world we may have in any occidental town, the former presents major differences. I will not detail all of these differences -that would be a vast and hard work, not suitable for a blog entry- but I will just focus on what I consider the main one: stress. So far, I believe that scarcity is not really a problem in the Philippines: you can find lots of food everywhere, both in rich and poor areas, and at a very affordable price. I would not say that poor people have the problems of the second meaning -precariousness- as they are just poor, they have no or very bad jobs and they do not seem to envisage another different future. However, this is not an excuse for them to have their own future plans, lots of children included. They make their own future in the context of their possibilities without the worries previously stated in the second meaning. On the contrary, I would say that the main difference between rich people and districts, and poor people and districts, is stress: while in the rich areas -to be found in districts like BGC or Makati- you can walk in the streets, without noise, without pollution and just enjoying the pleasure of walking, in the latter, with streets plenty of old noisy polluting cards, people, street markets, penetrating smells and all kind of fluids on the floor -all of this may seem exotic for the very first time, but it is not after some months- having a walk becomes a battle in which sooner or latter you become exhausted.

Conclusion: A real poor person is likely to criticize this entry. She may say that I do not know what is poverty for them, that they really have scarcity problems and that they are worried about a bad future they cannot change. They can even add that these problems are more important than the one of ‘stress’. Probably, my vision is so centered in my feelings and I am being selfish. Anyway, I defend another complementary meaning or factor -more or less important- of poverty: stress.


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