Types of Poverty and the Human Development Index

Types of Poverty and the Human Development Index
Sociologists, economists, and other researchers define poverty using a variety of approaches. Poverty can be defined in terms of income or access to resources. Poverty can be defined by comparing a person’s resources to others or by comparing what a person has to what the person wants or expects to have.
These various approaches are captured in three different types of poverty:

Absolute Poverty
Relative Poverty
Subjective Poverty

Absolute poverty is defined by the inability to access the basic necessities of life. As a result the lives of persons in absolute poverty are threatened. In 2015, the World Bank identified a dollar amount of less than $1.25 per day as defining absolute poverty. Presently that amount has been raised to $1.90 per day. People experiencing absolute poverty do not have access to adequate nutrition to survive. They may not have enough calories of any kind or the nutrients in the food they have are not sufficient to maintain life. They do not have access to shelter that keeps out heat, cold, rain, wind, or environmental toxins. People in absolute poverty do not have access to potable water. Potable water is water safe to drink that does not have microorganisms or very high levels of chemical toxins in it. People in absolute poverty also do not have adequate sanitation systems. They are often exposed to human and animal waste that can cause deadly illnesses. Also, healthcare is extremely limited or not available at all to people living in absolute poverty. Many people in these conditions suffer preventable diseases like dysentery, cholera, malaria, and yellow fever. As stated previously, because of these circumstances, the lives of people in absolute poverty are constantly in danger.
Relative poverty exists when people can access the basic necessities of life but cannot afford the average standard of living in their society. Often they can access the necessities only through a social “safety net” like government-funded programs or other resources provided by the society as a whole. Government programs like SNAP or public housing are examples. So are public health insurance programs like Medicaid, or a drinking well providing potable water that was dug by the community and available to all. In income terms, relative poverty is often defined as 50 to 60 percent of the median per person annual income for a society. People in relative poverty may not live in conditions that threaten their lives immediately, but their circumstances often produce long-term health risks like living in areas where water runoff and ground water may contain unsafe levels of toxic chemicals. Relative poverty can keep people from participating fully in their society. People in relative poverty typically cannot afford the “extras” in life including eating out at restaurants or attending entertainment events.
Subjective poverty exists when what a person has does not meet his or her expectations. People in this category have access to the necessities of life but not the “wants” of life. When they view their income or other resources, they see a gap between what they can afford and what they want. They may have a car but desire the newest model. They might live comfortably in an apartment but desire a job promotion so they can afford a new house. Subjective poverty is defined by the individual’s expectations and perceptions rather than by a specific income or percentage of an income. A person can have a high income and experience subjective poverty if that income does not meet expectations and desires. A person could also have a low income for a society and not experience subjective poverty if the income met personal expectations and desires.
The Human Development Index (HDI) was developed by the United Nations in recognition of the fact that poverty is not only defined by lack of income. Although absolute poverty, relative poverty and subjective poverty mostly focus on income disparities, the HDI measures the level of development in a society by assessing not only income per person but also the life expectancy, education and living standards of people in the society. The United Nations maintains that by increasing life expectancy and health generally, improving years of education and literacy, and improving living standards like sanitation, electricity, and access to potable water the poverty in a society will decrease. In some cases if life expectancy, education and living standards are increased, the effects of poverty may be reduced even if income is not changed. The HDI is designed to measure efforts to increase all of these factors rather than just measuring changes in income.