It’s true that poverty affects people of all races, genders, and nationalities, but it’s also true that poverty—especially deep, persistent, intergenerational poverty—plagues some groups more than others. That’s because poverty isn’t just a matter of making too little money to pay the bills or living in a bad neighborhood—it’s about a series of circumstances and challenges that build upon each other, making it difficult to create stability and build wealth.
My colleague Derek Thompson wrote about this concept, which he termed “Total Inequality”—“the sum of the financial, psychological, and cultural disadvantages that come with poverty,” in his words. “Researchers cannot easily count up these disadvantages, and journalists cannot easily graph them,” he wrote. “But they might be the most important stories about why poverty persists across time and generations.”
Recently, the Brookings Institution published a report looking at the same idea but giving it a different name. The paper, builds on research from the British economist William Beveridge, who in 1942 proposed five types of poverty: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. In modern terms, these could be defined as poverty related to housing, education, income, employment, and healthcare, respectively. Analyzing the 2014 American Community Survey, the paper’s co-authors, Richard Reeves, Edward Rodrigue, and Elizabeth Kneebone, found that half of Americans experience at least one of these types of poverty, and around 25 percent suffer from at least two.