How do we unwind the cycle of poverty?

“Interventions that … break the mutually reinforcing mechanisms that lead to poverty traps could ignite a virtuous cycle between growth and broad poverty reduction. … development policies need to maintain a long-term perspective to give the investments needed to break low incomes and poverty persistence.”

— World Bank, “Poverty Reduction and Growth: Virtuous and Vicious Circles,” 2006, p. 160

One of the biggest barriers to unwinding the cycle of poverty is that families are so caught up in addressing short-term needs they don’t have time or energy left over to work on their long-term goals of a better life. When a child could pick coffee to help pay for his mother’s medication needed today, it is hard to justify the remote and uncertain payoff of that child staying in school. The same is true of preventive health procedures, and investments in home improvements. All of the family’s energy is directed to interlocking day-to-day needs, so nothing changes in the long-term.

When families gain access to education, preventive and curative health care, and opportunities to earn housing improvements, they can begin to address the underlying, inter-related issues that prevent them from getting ahead.

Further reading

World Bank. “Poverty Reduction and Growth: Virtuous and Vicious Circles.” 2006.

Rosenberg, Tina. “A Payoff Out of Poverty?” The New York Times Magazine. 21 December 2008.

Estrada, Daniela. “More Education and Cash Transfers Needed to Fight Inequality [in Latin America].” Inter Press Service. 15 December 2010.

UNDP. “Acting on the Future: Breaking the Intergenerational Transmission of Inequality.” Regional Human Development Report for Latin America and the Carribean. 2010.