Economics: Poverty Definitions in Dictionaries

Shipler begins with enticing examples of what it means to be poor in America – not only to not have access to resources but to be presented with these unattainable things on a daily basis. He points out that poverty is difficult to define but that it is easier to perceive through comparison, which is so easily found in the modern United States. According to Shipler, the dictionary definitions of poverty are also non-universal, offering different views on the matter to their reader.

The first definition mentioned is “Want or scarcity of means of subsistence.” The next expands further, claiming poverty is the “Lack of the means of providing material needs or comforts.” Lastly, the third definition states that poverty is “The state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.” From most simplistic to the most elaborate, these definitions are all relatively vague.

I find the third definition, which emphasizes the “socially acceptable” aspect of needs and comforts, to be the most appropriate one. Shipler provides examples of the relative nature of poverty – with the relativity coming from the environment of the individual since a person considered poor in one place might not be considered poor in another. Since the third definition mainly differentiates itself in its acceptance of such fact, it is the most appropriate one.

Nevertheless, I do not think that any of the above definitions are perfect. It might be socially acceptable for an individual to have very few comforts or possessions in certain cultures, which does not necessarily make him not poor in his own eyes. There is a level of individual subjectivity as well as cultural relativity to poverty, but it can be difficult to define concretely.

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